Gaines fit and free to make plays

Los Angeles Times - - NFL - By Gary Klein gary.klein@la­times.com Twit­ter: @la­timesklein

A foot in­jury that re­quired surgery and side­lined him the en­tire sea­son two years ago is com­pletely healed. So are the ham­string is­sues and other prob­lems that slowed him in 2016.

Rams cor­ner­back E.J. Gaines is fi­nally un­en­cum­bered and free to make plays.

Gaines showed his fit­ness Mon­day when he in­ter­cepted a Jared Goff pass that tipped off the hands of re­ceiver Pharoh Cooper dur­ing a seven-on-seven drill. Gaines grabbed the ball and sprinted to­ward the end zone.

It was ex­actly the kind of play new de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips ex­pects, Gaines said. Phillips ran the Den­ver Bron­cos’ defense the last two sea­sons and helped them win a Su­per Bowl.

“When you go back and watch a lot of the Bron­cos film and Wade’s defense, man, it’s full of tipped passes and tipped balls for the se­condary,” Gaines said. “I think it’s part of the de­fen­sive scheme and I’m ex­cited about it.”

Phillips was not at prac­tice Mon­day be­cause he was at­tend­ing to a fam­ily sit­u­a­tion, coach Sean McVay said. But upon re­view of the prac­tice tape, he will no doubt be pleased to see Gaines’ play.

Gaines, a sixth-round draft pick from Mis­souri in 2014, started 15 games as a rookie and ap­peared on track for a valu­able role in 2015.

But he suf­fered a foot in­jury dur­ing the first week of train­ing camp and un­der­went surgery. Last sea­son, the train­ing and coach­ing staffs brought Gaines along slowly. He started 10 games but never ap­peared phys­i­cally sound.

Now he is com­pet­ing with Kayvon Web­ster — who played as a backup un­der Phillips in Den­ver — and oth­ers to start op­po­site Tru­maine John­son.

“This is the best I’ve felt since prob­a­bly my rookie year,” Gaines said. “So I’m just try­ing to get back into it and not do ev­ery­thing at one time. I think that’s been my prob­lem the last cou­ple years.”

Gaines said he was en­joy­ing the com­pe­ti­tion and the en­er­getic en­vi­ron­ment that McVay and his staff have cre­ated.

McVay oc­ca­sion­ally jumps into drills to cover receivers.

Asked to rate McVay’s cov­er­age skills, Gaines laughed.

“Man, about a three, hon­estly,” he said. “You can tell him I said that too.”

Backf ield op­por­tu­nity

Run­ning back Lance Dun­bar, signed in the off­sea­son to be Todd Gur­ley’s backup, has not prac­ticed be­cause of a knee in­jury, open­ing the door for Mal­colm Brown, Aaron Green and Justin Davis, an un­drafted rookie from USC.

Brown, a third-year pro, played mainly on special teams last sea­son. He rushed for 39 yards and caught three passes.

“He’s kind of got a quiet con­fi­dence about him­self, where he just goes about his busi­ness, very re­li­able, knows ex­actly what to do and how to do it and he is a guy that we can de­pend on,” McVay said, ad­ding, “Mal­colm has done a nice job es­tab­lish­ing him­self as that se­condary role.”

Green and Davis have “shown some flashes,” McVay said.

Fa­mous alums

McVay’s phone was buzzing Sun­day af­ter the Dodgers’ Kyle Farmer hit a walk-off dou­ble in his first ma­jor league at-bat.

McVay, 31, and Farmer, 26, both played quar­ter­back at Marist School in At­lanta. McVay said he met Farmer at the school’s foot­ball camp when the Dodgers player was an eighth-grader and McVay was work­ing as a camp coun­selor. McVay led Marist to a state ti­tle in 2003. Farmer led Marist to a state ti­tle game in 2008.

So for­mer coaches texted McVay with news about Farmer’s game-win­ning ex­ploits for the Dodgers.

“That’s a cool deal,” McVay said. “They said, ‘It’s nice to see two guys hav­ing suc­cess in L.A.’

“I said, ‘We haven’t won a game yet. He’s mak­ing plays al­ready. So you can say that af­ter we win some games.’ ”

Notes

The Rams on Tues­day will be in full pads for the first time . ... Of­fen­sive line­man An­drew Whit­worth and line­backer Con­nor Bar­win were among sev­eral play­ers held out of drills on Mon­day. “What’s im­por­tant for these guys is get­ting them at their op­ti­mum health by Sept. 10, when we open the sea­son,” McVay said. “So, there’s a hand­ful of guys that we want to be care­ful with . ... Mostly it’s just ex­clu­sive to some of the vet­eran play­ers.”

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

RUN­NING BACK Todd Gur­ley heads to the locker room af­ter ar­riv­ing from the dorm in a golf cart be­fore the Rams’ first day of train­ing camp at UC Irvine. The Rams hope the carts will lessen the load on play­ers’ legs.

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