The secondary ranked as one of the Rams’ greatest concerns going into the off-season and it remains so with two exhibition games remaining before the season opener.
Free-agent departures by cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Rodney McLeod left voids that were exposed again in the Rams’ victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.
Franchise cornerback Trumaine Johnson gave up a big play, the secondary looked confused on a second-quarter touchdown pass to receiver Jeremy Maclin, and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner was ejected after an exchange with Maclin near the end of the first half.
Coach Jeff Fisher said Sunday that the cornerback spot opposite Johnson remains “up in the air” as the Rams prepare for Saturday night’s exhibition at Denver.
But Fisher was encouraged by the return of E.J. Gaines, who started 15 games as a rookie in 2014 and played for the first time since suffering a foot injury last year during training camp.
“Just kind of reminiscent of the E.J. that we had a couple years ago,” Fisher said during a news conference at UC Irvine.
Gaines, 24, participated in off-season workouts but was not cleared for full football activity until the start of training camp. He sat out the exhibition opener against the Dallas Cowboys because of a hamstring issue and was looking forward to playing against the Chiefs.
“It felt like more than year,” he said last week of the rehabilitation process. “It felt like five years.”
Gaines’ status for the exhibition against the Chiefs became questionable after he fell hard while attempting to break up a pass play in practice Thursday.
Fisher said Sunday that Gaines suffered a sprained ankle and “we didn’t know if he was going to be able to go,” against the Chiefs.
Johnson and Coty Sensabaugh started at cornerback, but Gaines came on and made three tackles.
“He fought through it and he made some really big-time tackles,” Fisher said.
Fisher said Gaines’ reps would increase in practice and against the Broncos.
Based on his experience, Gaines would seem the logical choice to start opposite Johnson, who received the franchise tag and is receiving about $14 million this season.
Fisher did not sound overly concerned.
“Tru doesn’t like giving up balls, nor do we like to see balls given up on third and two in press coverage for big plays,” Fisher said. “But he still made some plays.”
The Rams also are working through issues at safety.
With Maurice Alexander sidelined against the Chiefs, Cody Davis started at free safety “and did a nice job,” Fisher said.
T.J. McDonald started at strong safety, and Fisher said the former USC standout was “coming on.” McDonald missed off-season workouts in the aftermath of his arrest for driving under the influence of a substance other than alcohol.
The receiving corps also remains a concern after multiple dropped passes in the two exhibitions.
Rookie Pharoh Cooper dropped a Jared Goff pass against the Cowboys, but he came back against the Chiefs and turned a reception into a short touchdown.
But veteran Brian Quick struggled.
The fifth-year pro from Appalachian State signed a one-year “prove-it” contract before the season. He has dropped several passes.
In the middle
Middle linebacker Alec Ogletree was not happy that the Chiefs drove for a touchdown on the opening possession, but he was encouraged by the defense’s response in stifling the second series.
“Once you settle down and play, everything just kind of flows and you get in a groove of things,” he said after the game.
Fisher said Ogletree made plays and was making strides despite some frustration.
“It’s his job as the middle linebacker and the leader of the defense to get on and off the field and get the ball for the offense,” Fisher said. “So I think he was frustrated there, but he’s progressing.”
Receiver Bradley Marquez suffered an ankle injury against the Chiefs but it was not as serious as initially thought, Fisher said, adding that Marquez might sit out a game. Defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks left the game because of an apparent injury, but Fisher said he was “fine.” …. The Rams practice Monday at 4:30 p.m. at UC Irvine. Defensive linemen will sign autographs.