Cornerback E.J. Gaines pushes to join Los Angeles Rams’ starting lineup

Rams defensive back E.J. Gaines takes a break during training camp at UC Irvine.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

E.J. Gaines waited more than a year to get back onto the field in a game situation.

The Rams cornerback finally did that in last week’s exhibition against the Kansas City Chiefs and now he’s ready to make a push to become a starter opposite Trumaine Johnson.

Gaines is expected to play a large role and perhaps start Saturday night at Denver when the Rams play the Broncos, last season’s Super Bowl champions.

If he is physically sound, Gaines could fortify a secondary that has been among the Rams’ main concerns since the end of last season.

Gaines would fill the spot left vacant by the departure of Janoris Jenkins, who signed a free-agent contract with the New York Giants.

The secondary struggled at times in the first two exhibitions. The Rams have given up three touchdown passes and have no interceptions.


Gaines was asked Monday how much better he thought the unit could perform.

“A million times better than we’ve shown in the preseason so far,” he said. “Coming out and starting fast is something we have to start doing and what we’re preaching in the secondary room.”

Gaines started 15 games as a rookie in 2014 but was sidelined all of last season because of a foot injury suffered during training camp. He sat out the Rams’ first exhibition against the Dallas Cowboys because of a hamstring issue.

He made four tackles against the Chiefs.

“I was just excited to get out there and compete,” he said.

Now he is ready to challenge Lamarcus Joyner and Coty Sensabaugh for a starting role in a defense that will probably utilize all three.

Gaines said he felt a bit rusty against the Chiefs — “the small things, the little fundamental things, techniques and stuff,” he said — but he has about three weeks to sharpen his skills before the Sept. 12 regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

“Getting the speed of the game,” he said. “You can’t really simulate that out here on the practice field but getting out there in the preseason will do me good.”

There also are several issues the secondary can address collectively, Gaines said.

“Just making more plays,” he said. “Getting our hands on more footballs and causing more turnovers.”


Impending cuts

The roster will be trimmed from 90 to 75 players after the third exhibition, making this week a final chance to impress for many players.

Coach Jeff Fisher said some might get the opportunity to become practice squad players and some might get opportunities with other teams.

“And then some of them,” he said, “will come to the realization that their childhood goal is over and I need to go on with my life.”

There is no special message required this week, he said.

“If they don’t realize there’s a cut down after the third preseason game, they’re probably not smart enough to play and help us play,” Fisher said. “We just want to try to give everybody an opportunity to play.”

NFL teams will trim rosters from 75 to 53 players after the final exhibition.

Kick start

Fisher said during the off-season that he wanted to create a competitive environment for kicker Greg Zuerlein, who made only 20 of 30 field-goal attempts last season.

The Rams brought in Taylor Bertolet, who played at Texas A&M.

Zuerlein has yet to attempt a field goal in an exhibition, but he has made all of his extra-point attempts. This is the second season that NFL extra points will be kicked from the 15-yard line, making it a 33-yard attempt.

“Hopefully, he’ll get some opportunities,” Fisher said, referring to the final two exhibitions. “He’s making his extra points, which a couple years ago was no big deal. Now it’s a big deal because it’s a distance involved in the kick.

“He’s kicking well out here. And Taylor can kick in the league too. Taylor has got a good leg, and very accurate.”

Quick hits

Tight end Tyler Higbee and linebacker Mark Barron returned to practice after sitting out against the Chiefs…. Hall of Fame receiver Andre Reed attended practice and addressed receivers early in the workout…. The Rams practice Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. Defensive backs will sign autographs. This is the final week of open practices.