Rams rookie Gaines impressing early

E.J. Gaines (Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS — E.J. Gaines got a welcome-to-the-NFL moment early in the Rams’ preseason opener against the Saints on Friday night when the rookie cornerback looked across the line of scrimmage and saw a familiar player in front of him.

“I actually got out there and the first guy I lined up across from was Marques Colston,” Gaines said following practice on Monday. “So that was kind of like, wow. I’ve been watching him play for a while since I was younger, in high school and stuff like that. So just getting out there and lining up across (from him) was kind of crazy.”

Colston, who is entering his ninth NFL season, has surpassed the 1,000-receiving yard mark six times in his first eight years and had 75 catches for 943 yards and five touchdowns in the 2013 campaign.

Did Colston say anything to the rookie cornerback?

“No,” Gaines said.

Did Gaines say anything to him?

“No,” Gaines said, with a chuckle.

The sixth-round pick from the University of Missouri impressed in his first preseason game.

The Rams were without starting corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson as well as reserve Brandon McGee, so Gaines got the start at one of the cornerback spots, with Darren Woodard on the other side.

Gaines took a team-high 52 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and finished with a team-high six tackles. He did get beat for a 25-yard touchdown reception by Saints rookie first-rounder Brandin Cooks in the third quarter, but the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder performed well overall in his NFL debut.

“I feel like I played well, but also got a lot of things to learn from that game,” Gaines said. “All of us do. Just going in watching the film and seeing what I can do better. Also on special teams.”

His performance on Friday followed up some strong work in practice sessions leading up to the game. He’s had a few interceptions in the first two weeks of training camp, including a pick of an errant Sam Bradford pass during the Rams’ first full-squad practice of camp.

“He’s just been making plays," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He’s very instinctive, a very conscientious, smart player. He’s picked the defense up really well and made plays. He’s a football player. He tackles, he covers, he’s got ball skills, so we’ll continue to get him some reps.”

As a sixth-round pick, Gaines isn’t guaranteed a roster spot at the conclusion of camp but he’s made a strong case for one after the first few weeks.

He’s putting in the work to get better at practice everyday to put himself in position to contribute once the regular season starts as well as to become a complete cornerback.

“I’m working a lot on my press-man (coverage),” Gaines said. “We didn’t do a lot of that at Mizzou, so the defensive coaches are working on that with me, being out there getting physical with receivers and stuff like that.”

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com

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