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FSU’s Joyner, Auburn’s Uzomah are hybrid stars PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, January 02, 2014 9:00 PM

By RALPH D. RUSSO

Associated Press

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — 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 said Thursday. “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 5-8, 190-pound senior and former 5-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 added. “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.”

Texas-sized cloud hangs over BCS title game: A Texas-sized cloud of uncertainty looms over college football’s biggest game of the season.

As No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn prepare in Southern California, the University of Texas is still looking for a new football coach. And until the Longhorns make a hire, just about every successful coach can be considered a candidate — including Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn.

“I’ve been amazed about how quiet this thing has been,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said earlier this week. “Because of that it leads me to speculate and believe that somebody still involved in coaching, whether it’s the NFL or college, must be one of their primary candidates.”

“I think the longer this goes on, I think it’s very, very clear that it’s somebody who’s still coaching. Who that might be, I have no idea.”

Some leaks have sprung in the last couple of days and it appears front-runners are emerging.

Published reports out of Texas stated the Longhorns were interested in Fisher, Baylor’s Art Briles, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and Louisville’s Charlie Strong. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio has also been mentioned as a coach Texas athletic director Steve Patterson is looking at. Patterson said he wants the search complete by Jan. 15.

“Texas, they’re going to be calling on everybody they possibly can because they’re going to try to get the best coach they possibly can,” Florida State AD Stan Wilcox said. “Meanwhile, everybody’s trying to keep their coaches because they all feel that the people that Texas is looking at are the best coaches out there.”

Florida State hopes it has put all the speculation about Fisher’s future to rest. The fourth-year head coach and Nick Saban disciple finally got around on Tuesday to signing a new contract that runs through the 2018 season and pays him about $4.1 million annually.

Auburn agreed to a new deal with Malzahn the day before the Southeastern Conference championship game last month. The 6-year contract is worth $3.85 million annually to the first-year Tigers coach.

Briles got a 10-year deal in November from Baylor. Michigan State is working on a new deal for Dantonio that could double his $1.9 million salary.

The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesmen reported Patterson has met with Strong and that Briles, now that Baylor’s season ended Tuesday night with a 52-42 loss to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, could be next to interview.

And, of course, Saban, the object of so many Longhorns’ desires, agreed to a new multi-year deal with Alabama that will pay him $7 million a year after months of stories and speculation connecting the 4-time national championship winning coach and Texas.

But what do those extensions really mean? Are Fisher, Malzahn, Briles and even Saban truly off the market?

“A contract is written to be broken,” replied Kansas State athletic director John Currie, who doesn’t have to worry about his football coach, 74-year-old Bill Snyder, going anywhere.

The trend in college sports, especially college football, is for schools to quickly lock up successful coaches and hand out raises.

Mississippi extended Hugh Freeze’s contract after a 7-5 regular season and bumped his pay to $3 million per year. Washington State’s Mike Leach got the Cougars back into a bowl by winning six games in his second season at Pullman. He got a two-year extension for his work.

Texas A&M made the boldest move of all this season with coach Kevin Sumlin, who was drawing interest from NFL teams last year. The Aggies made Sumlin (20-6 in two seasons at A&M) a $5 million-per-year coach with a new 6-year deal.

Arizona AD Greg Byrne said the contract numbers that make headlines can often be deceiving.

“When you get down into the details the interesting numbers are what’s guaranteed, both sides. If the coach were to leave, what’s the buyout? And then if you were to dismiss your coach without cause, what percent of the contract is guaranteed?” Byrne asked. “Sometime you’ll see someone with an 8-year contract but half the contract is guaranteed, so in some ways it’s a 4-year contract instead.”

Currie said the NFL has played a major role in changing the salary structure for college coaches but ultimately a school needs to decide what works best for it.

But market pressures can be strong and big openings — such as the one at Texas — can drive up that market.

Florida State and Auburn have made their moves to protect their interests and can spend this week focusing on what it takes to win a national championship. But until the Longhorns introduce a new coach, fans of the Seminoles and Tigers — and Bears and Cardinals, etc. — have reason to be at least a little distracted by what’s going on in Austin.

Last Updated on Thursday, January 02, 2014 7:28 PM
 

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