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Meet the Rams: Trumaine Johnson and E.J. Gaines in prove-it mode with the secondary

As the Rams get to work at training camp at UC Irvine, we’ll take a look at the team’s roster, position by position. Today, the defensive secondary:

The stakes probably couldn’t be higher for the Rams’ top two cornerbacks, Trumaine Johnson and E.J. Gaines.

Johnson got hit with the franchise tag and will be playing for his next contract, while Gaines will be looking to show that his rookie season two years ago wasn’t an anomaly.

Gaines suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in training camp last year when receiver Kenny Britt stepped on his foot.

The injury kept Gaines from building on the two interceptions and team-leading 14 pass defenses he had in 15 starts as a rookie. A year later, the Rams are still working him back in to full participation in training camp.

As for Johnson, he led the Rams in interceptions (seven) and batted passes (17) last season while the team as a whole was tied for seventh in fewest touchdowns conceded through the air (21).

Meet the Rams: Defensive line »

Meet the Rams: Linebackers »

The Rams’ secondary will be under extra pressure this season following the free-agency exits of veteran corner Janoris Jenkins to the New York Giants and safety Rodney McLeod to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Despite the loss of Jenkins, who had 10 interceptions with five touchdowns in four seasons, Pro Football Focus has the Rams’ cornerbacks graded as the 13th best in the league.

No. 22 Trumaine Johnson, 6-foot-2, 208 pounds

Johnson, 26, came to the Rams as a third-round pick out of Montana and one of the more highly regarded cornerbacks in the 2012 draft. 

In four seasons, Johnson has started 33 of the 55 games he’s appeared in, made 206 tackles and had 15 interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

Meet the Rams: Receivers »

Meet the Rams: Tight ends »

Meet the Rams: Running backs »

His seven picks last season tied him for the most in the NFC and set him up for a big payday. The team applied the franchise tag so now he’ll have another season to impress the Rams or any of the other 31 potential suitors. 

No. 33 E.J. Gaines, 5-foot-10, 190 pounds

Gaines, 24, was first team All-Big 12 and then first team All-Southeastern Conference at Missouri as the school switched conferences.

Gaines, a sixth-round draft pick, was the only rookie cornerback to start 15 games in 2014. He registered 63 tackles and had two interceptions playing outside and in the nickel corner spot before missing the final game of the season because of a concussion.

He then lost the 2014 season to the foot injury he suffered in training camp, but is still seen as one of the top three cornerbacks on the team with Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner despite not seeing the field last year.

No. 20 Lamarcus Joyner, 5-foot-8, 184 pounds

Joyner, 25, played all over the Florida State secondary during his college days and won a national championship.

The second-round pick made one start and appeared in 10 games as a rookie, collecting 40 tackles, two batted passes and one sack.

In 2015, he made six starts and appeared in all 16 games. Joyner had 72 tackles with six defensed passes and two sacks.

No. 21 Coty Sensabaugh, 5-foot-11, 187 pounds

The Rams signed Sensabaugh, 27, to a three-year deal shortly after losing Jenkins to the Giants in free agency. The former fourth-round pick out of Clemson had played out his rookie contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Sensabaugh is coming off his best season as a pro. He made 15 starts last season, collecting 60 tackles, eight broken up passes and two interceptions, one of which he returned 28-yards for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In the three seasons prior, Sensabaugh made a total of 15 starts and did most of his work as the nickel. 

No. 25 T.J. McDonald, 6-foot-2, 217 pounds

McDonald, 25, will get to relive his USC glory days at the Coliseum.

McDonald, a third-round pick in 2013, had his rookie season shortened by a broken leg. He started four games before he suffered the injury and was put on injured reserve-designated to return.

He came back to play in the Rams’ final six contests, finishing the season with 53 tackles and had one sack.

McDonald was the third leading tackler (105) his sophomore season and had two sacks and intercepted a pass. He also had a blocked punt and a blocked field goal in the same game against the Buccaneers.

McDonald ended the 2015 season on injured reserve after suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery. In 11 games, he had 63 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.

No. 31 Maurice Alexander, 6-foot-1, 220 pounds

Alexander, 25, is entering his third season with the Rams as a strong safety. 

His route to the NFL began at junior college in Arizona and took him to Utah State in 2011, where he played linebacker, but was kicked off the team before the 2012 season for punching a teammate in the face at a party. The teammate needed surgery to repair the damage and Alexander later pleaded guilty to an assault charge.

He was granted a second chance with the Aggies in 2013 and made the move to the safety position.

He’s made just five career starts for the Rams in two seasons, but he was viewed as a development project when he was selected with a fourth-round pick.

Last season, Alexander had 39 tackles with two sacks and one pass break-up.

Other defensive backs: No. 24 Christian Bryant, No. 38 Cody Davis, No. 36 Rohan Gaines (Arkansas), No. 35 Mike Jordan (Missouri Western),  No. 32 Troy Hill, No. 27 Jordan Lomax (Iowa), No. 43 Brian Randolph (Tennessee), No. 47 Marcus Roberson, No. 41 Jabriel Washington (Alabama)

Follow Matt Wilhalme on Twitter @mattwilhalme

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