Tuesday, June 3, 2014
E.J. Gaines out to prove he belongs
By Nick Wagoner
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As Day 2 of the NFL draft turned into Day 3 and the St. Louis Rams set their plan for what direction they wanted to go, Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines was a name sitting on their list of potential additions.
After drafting safety Maurice Alexander with their fourth-round pick, the Rams, having traded their fifth-round pick on Day 2, endured a long wait until they picked again in Round 6.
During that long intermission, coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead considered trade options to move up. Gaines was among the potential targets for a move up, but ultimately the Rams stood pat. To their surprise, Gaines continued to fall.
Defensive back E.J. Gaines, 31, hopes his versatility helps his bid to win a roster spot with the Rams.
"We had made an attempt early, had considered him earlier," Fisher said. "We felt like he fell to us."
The Rams were happy to stop that fall, using the 188th overall pick on Gaines. While the Rams were pleased to get what they consider a steal in the sixth round, Gaines was doing everything possible to take his mind off what he termed a "surprising" fall.
In his three years as a starter at Mizzou, Gaines was one of the cornerstone players on the defense. He earned first team All Big 12 Conference honors in 2011 and did the same in the Southeastern Conference last year. Included in that 2013 effort was a strong showing against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans in a late-season matchup.
Gaines was instrumental in limiting Evans to four catches for 8 yards. It's a matchup Gaines was asked about regularly through the pre-draft process. Evans went seventh overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“They brought it up, actually all of them did," Gaines said. "To see him go in the first round and see me go in the sixth is a little crazy to me, but like I said, it’s a blessing. God has a plan for me and for Mike Evans, and I’m sure we’ll both be great in the NFL.”
Gaines' chance to be great will be determined mostly based on his opportunity in St. Louis. While he would have preferred to go earlier in the draft, he at least steps into a potentially prosperous situation in St. Louis.
Brandon McGee is the only other cornerback from last season's active roster returning this season, and though he has potential, he's far from proven. Gaines brings the versatility to play any of the cornerback positions and said he could even contribute at safety. That ability to play all over the secondary could be his ticket, not only to a roster spot but even possible playing time as a rookie.
“I think there’s plenty of things I can bring to the Rams as far as going inside and playing the nickel, playing outside at corner, even moving back and playing some safety," Gaines said. "I’ll do whatever I have to, to get on the field. Like I said, if it’s special teams, inside, outside, safety, it doesn’t matter."
As Gaines adapts to his new surroundings, special teams will probably be his primary objective. Before drafting Gaines, the Rams had a green dot next to his name which indicates special teams coach John Fassel believes he can be a contributor there right away.
That should buy Gaines time as he adjusts to the NFL and figures out his best fit on the defense.
“He’s a good zone player, a good effort player, a solid tackler," Fisher said. "He shows man-to-man skills and he’s a good athlete. We had some spots available at the position, so we feel like he’s got a chance to come in and not only compete, but also do some things on special teams for us.”