Playing cornerback in the NFL is hard enough, but Trumaine Johnson of the St. Louis Rams has another critic back home in California.
It’s his mother, Lynn Stallworth, who is also one of his biggest fans.
“My mother, she didn’t know too much about football when I first got into the league,” Johnson said. “You could be in Cover-2 and a receiver runs by you and it could be the safety’s fault, but on TV it’s you getting burned. But you have to love it ... you have to love your position.”
Cornerbacks typically get noticed a lot more when they give up a touchdown pass or get lit up for a huge gain. It’s the nature of the position.
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“She’ll hit me with, ‘What happened baby? I saw you on TV and he scored,”’ Johnson said. “ I’m like, ‘Mom, I don’t want to get into it. We won or lost, so I don’t want to get into it.”’
Johnson has worked extremely hard to find a role in the NFL. The season-ending foot injury to cornerback E.J. Gaines leaves Johnson and Janoris Jenkins as the starting cornerbacks, with second-year player LaMarcus Joyner elevated to third cornerback status.
Ironically, it was Johnson’s knee injury in the third preseason game against Cleveland last season that led to Gaines becoming a starter in 2014 as a rookie. Gained started 15 games and had two interceptions, also ranking fourth on the squad with 105 tackles.
“I pray the best for a speedy recovery for him (Gaines),” said Johnson, 25, who missed the first seven weeks last season before returning to action.
The 2012 third-round pick, now in his fourth NFL season, never lost sight of his goal to regain a starting job. He’s fairly large by cornerback standards at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds and Johnson spent the bulk of the offseason in St. Louis preparing for this opportunity.
“I went home here and there for the weekends to see my family, but I stayed here and trained with my guys,” Johnson said. “My trainers, my speed coach, my weightlifting coach, everything was here. So I stayed here for the most part.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has noticed Johnson’s dedication.
“It all goes back to what he’s done this offseason,” Fisher said. “He was there every day, he’s worked, he’s taken care of his body and he’s determined. If you get in that third and fourth year and play like he has, you should start making those plays when you have that kind of ability.”
Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent, but he seems driven to prove himself once again.
“I didn’t want to go nowhere,” he said. “I wanted to be here and work out. There’s distractions everywhere, but I felt like this is a big year for me. I just wanted to stay and stay focused.”
Johnson has been a starter for 20 of his 41 games in the NFL and has eight career interceptions. He led the Rams with three picks a year ago despite missing the first seven weeks with the knee injury.
The Rams’ intense pass rush, which includes all-pro Robert Quinn and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald along with a healthy Chris Long, helps deflect pressure from the defensive backs.
““I feel like the sky’s the limit for us as a defense,” Johnson said.
As a veteran player on a relatively young roster, Johnson still doesn’t see himself that way.
“I still feel like I just got in the league,” he said. “I’m going into my fourth year. They call me a vet; a lot of guys look up to me, so it’s good to come out here and be productive.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said starting left guard Rodger Saffold, who suffered a shoulder injury in Friday’s preseason opener against Oakland, won’t play in the next game Sunday in Tennessee.
“We’re going to hold him out this week, but he’s doing well,” Fisher said. “Doing much better.”
Brandon Washington filled Saffold’s spot with the first-team offense on Thursday.
Among the other notable players sitting out practice were defensive tackle Michael Brockers and linebacker Daren Bates.