During his first two seasons with the Rams, safety Marqui Christian’s braids often caused people to mistake him for star running back Todd Gurley.
Christian did not mind.
One night, he went out for sushi at Nobu in Malibu. The waiter offered him a free dessert.
“I think the waiter knew but the owner didn’t,” Christian said, laughing. “He was like, ‘You’re not Todd, but you’re Todd tonight.’
“I’m like, ‘You’re right. I’ll take it.’”
Christian, a fourth-year pro, has since dyed his hair a lighter color. He also has carved his own identity as a valuable rotation player and special teams stalwart.
Christian, perhaps more than any Rams player, is looking forward to Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.
It’s an elimination game of sorts for the Rams, who are 6-5 and almost certainly need to win all of their five remaining games for a chance at a third consecutive playoff berth.
Games against the Cardinals, however, always are important to Christian.
In 2016, they selected him in the fifth round of the NFL draft after he concluded his career at Division II Midwestern State in Texas.
Christian had been inactive for the first three games when the Cardinals made an ill-advised gamble. Punter Drew Butler had suffered injuries that prevented him from kicking, but he also served as the holder for field-goal attempts. The Cardinals signed another punter and kept Butler on the roster, making room by putting Christian on waivers and hoping no team would claim him.
Was Christian surprised?
“Hell yeah!” he said. “I was a fifth-round pick, three games into the season, I’m in a new city and living in a hotel.
“I’m like ‘Damn, life came fast.’”
The Rams, who were preparing to play the Cardinals that week, claimed the 5-foot-11, 207-pound Christian.
“A lot of people on social media probably thought that it was using me for intel,” Christian said, “but I really had nothing to give them.”
The Rams knew and liked Christian after working him out before the draft. He provided his new team with an energetic presence on special teams before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.
Christian returned to a special teams role in 2017 and contributed to the Rams’ run to the NFC West title before suffering a shoulder injury. Last season, he backed up Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson and also played as a hybrid linebacker as the Rams won another division title and advanced to the Super Bowl.
He began this season in a position group that included 13-year pro Eric Weddle, Johnson and rookie Taylor Rapp, a second-round pick from Washington. After Johnson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 13, Christian’s role on defense has grown exponentially.
He started in a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals but has since returned to a backup role.
“He’s an active player that we can plug in to play different positions,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “He’s a good blitzer. He can cover tight ends man-to-man. We try to utilize him in certain roles, and he comes in and does that well.”
Linebacker Cory Littleton signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He remembers rooming with Christian after the Rams claimed him, and navigating the NFL as rookies.
“He’s been pushing all the time and he’s been able to get onto the field and show what he can do,” Littleton said. “He just comes in and works every day.”
Christian, like all Rams players and coaches, is eager to put Monday’s 45-6 rout by the Baltimore Ravens behind.
He was limited in practice Thursday because of a knee issue, but is expected to be a full participant Friday and play Sunday against the team that drafted him.
Christian has played in five games against the Cardinals — and the Rams have won all of them.
“I haven’t lost to Arizona yet,” he said, “so it’s been fun.”
The Cardinals are 3-7-1 under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, their third head coach since Christian was drafted.
“Even though it’s new coaching staff, I mean, I’m always looking forward to it since the management is the same,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it, for sure.”