Opportunity is something Korey Toomer has been searching for from the moment he was selected 154th overall in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks.
Battling injuries, he bounced from Seattle to Dallas to St. Louis to Oakland with a significant chunk of his time spent on the practice squad. Even though he appeared in one game for the Cowboys, seven for the Rams in 2014, and 10 in 2015 for the Raiders, nearly every single snap came on special teams.
Toomer coveted a chance to show what he can do on defense, hoping a team would give him the opportunity. The Chargers gave him that very chance, and he’s rewarded the team’s faith in him.
After signing with the Bolts on Sept. 27 following the season-ending Achilles injury to Manti Te’o, Toomer was thrust into the starting lineup 11 days later against his former team in Oakland. Again getting the start four days later on Thursday Night Football, he had a big forced fumble and recovery against wide receiver Jordan Taylor in the third quarter.
The Chargers have not only given Toomer the chance to play defense, but they are trusting him in pivotal situations. The 6-2, 235-pounder has delivered, recording 10 tackles, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and one recovery in two games.
Having to overcome a litany of injuries and waiting five years for this opportunity has made his success all the sweeter. However, Toomer isn’t satisfied with the past two weeks and is eager to make San Diego his home.
Truth be told, Toomer thought he’d get his chance with the Raiders. He credits Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. with helping establish a mindset during their time together in Oakland and Seattle to overcome adverse situations.
“When I first got hurt, the reason I was sitting out was a lot of injuries. Ken Norton put a book in my hand (after) my first injury and he was kind of my mentor. Him (and) my father just kept talking to me about how patience is a virtue. How my time was coming and to just be mentally strong. The books Norton had me reading and the way my Dad was talking to me were all about being patient, waiting on your time and how to prepare you every step of the way. To build your mental strength. Those two guys took care of me.”
Despite appearing in 10 games on special teams last season, Toomer began the season on the practice squad for the Raiders. When the Bolts came calling, Oakland tried to keep him by increasing his salary to turn down San Diego’s offer and remain on the practice squad. Although grateful for all the Raiders had done, the Bolts were giving him the opportunity he long coveted to play on defense.
“Oakland wanted to give me more money (to stay). They had injuries on the offensive line, so they couldn’t promote me. They would have paid me more but I would have been on the practice squad. I looked at it as business. From their standpoint, they had some things that they needed and they couldn’t help me at that time. There’s no hard feelings on either side and we both understand. When I got to play there, in that game I tried to let them know I can play this game.”
He delivered in his first career start, showing them what they missed out on. Toomer sliced through the line in the second quarter, dragging DeAndre Washington down for a four-yard loss. Later, he stopped Jamaze Olawale well short of the sticks on third down in San Diego territory, forcing the Raiders to kick a field goal.
Then came his crucial forced turnover in primetime, announcing himself to the country on the national stage.
“That was a surreal moment for me,” he said. “That was a stamp on being able to tell people my story and where I came from. All the way from junior college, not a lot of people know what the struggle was for me so making that play was like ‘I’m here now.’”
While the Bolts’ inside linebacker corps took a hit with the season ending losses of Te’o and Nick Dzubnar, Toomer has provided a boon alongside Jatavis Brown, Denzel Perryman and Joshua Perry to make the position a strength of the Chargers defense. He credits his strong play to Defensive Coordinator John Pagano’s system, which allows the Chargers to take advantage of his natural speed and athleticism.
“Pags’ system is benefitting me because he is letting me play fast. He is putting me in positions not to fail. That is why it is working for the both of us. I feel like these coaches are giving me a chance. Granted, I made good on the situation. These coaches have put me in position to make plays and are not putting too much on my plate. They are letting me fly around. I am grateful for these coaches giving me a call and giving me a chance to play this game. I want to show people that I can bring more to the table than just special teams. I love special teams, that’s where I want to play for the rest of my career as well, but I want to play defense, too.”