FSU’s Joyner, Auburn’s Uzomah Are Hybrid Stars

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Lamarcus Joyner is listed on Florida State’s depth chart as a cornerback. That fails to tell the whole story of the All-America defensive back.

Auburn’s C.J. Uzomah is the Tigers’ No. 1 tight end, though he’s almost as likely to line up out wide or in the back field.

In college football today it helps to have players who are hard to define because it also makes them hard to neutralize. Hybrid is the term that gets thrown around a lot. Joyner and Uzomah fit the description and could have a major impact on the BCS championship game Monday night, when the top-ranked Seminoles and No. 2 Tigers meet in the Rose Bowl.

Joyner is the Swiss Army knife of Florida State’s stingy and fast defense, which ranks tops in the nation in yards per play (3.95) and third in yards per game (268.5) allowed.

“First of all he’s very intelligent,” Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt saidThursday. “He’s got a lot of football savvy about him. We play six defensive backs and he can play all six positions. He’s a really good man-to-man guy. He can play the ball in the deep part of the field. He can tackle in space. He’s a great blitzer. He’s just an all-around good football player.”

If Joyner was a basketball player, he’d be a point guard who fills up the stat sheet. The 5-foot-8, 190-pound senior and former five-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was second on the team in tackles with 64, led the team in sacks with five, had two interceptions, four passes broken up and three forced fumbles this season.

He’s been asked to do a lot – and wished he could do even more.

“If it’s important enough to you, you would do it and the passion that I have for the game it allows me to do so,” he said. “Whatever I have to learn I will do it. If the dear Lord blessed me to be 50 pounds heavier and 3 more inches taller I may go to linebacker or d-end or something. I just love football.”

While most cornerbacks become stars because of their ability to play on an island, isolated with an elite receiver, Joyner thrives on being in on the action.

“I love being around that ball,” he said. “You have some lockdown corners and they don’t get any action. I get to roam around on the football field, stick my nose in everyone’s business and always be around the football.”

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee compared Joyner to former Alabama All-America cornerback Gilbert Arenas.

“He’s a guy we have to know where he’s at,” Lashlee said. “We have to account for him because you see some plays some teams run the ball one way and he’s making a play 20 yards on the other side of the field before guys on that side of the field are. You can tell he’s got a high football IQ.”

Uzomah does most of his work away from the ball.

The former high school quarterback from Suwanee, Ga., made the transition to tight end when he got to college in 2011 and added wide receiver to his title last year when Auburn was playing a pro-style offense under former coach Gene Chizik.

But in coach Gus Malzahn’s spread he’s back to being a tight end in name, if not strictly by definition.

“CJ is extremely versatile,” Lashlee said. “He can play tight end. He can flex out and be a receiver. He can be in the backfield like an H-back. He can play inside or outside receiver. He’s got enough size and strength to block defensive linemen, linebackers. He’s got enough speed and quickness. He has that ability to separate or great ball skills that allow him to play out on the perimeter some, too.”

Uzomah’s made only nine catches this season for 146 yards while being limited at times by a leg injury. He has caught three touchdown passes, including the game-winner with 10 seconds left in the Mississippi State game.

But playing for the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation, the 6-4, 258-pound junior knows his most important role is as a blocker.

“I love the physicality aspect of it now,” he said. “I think that’s something we take pride in on the perimeter.”