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A fit and healthy E.J. Gaines makes big plays in Rams training camp

Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines looks on during a break in the first day of training camp on the campus of UC Irvine on July 30, 2016.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A foot injury that required surgery and sidelined him the entire season two years ago is completely healed. So are the hamstring issues and other problems that slowed him in 2016.

Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines is finally unencumbered and free to make plays.

Gaines showed his fitness Monday when he intercepted a Jared Goff pass that tipped off the hands of receiver Pharoh Cooper during a seven-on-seven drill. Gaines grabbed the ball and sprinted toward the end zone.

It was exactly the kind of play new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips expects, Gaines said. Phillips ran the Denver Broncos’ defense the last two seasons and helped them win a Super Bowl.

“When you go back and watch a lot of the Broncos film and Wade’s defense, man, it’s full of tipped passes and tipped balls for the secondary,” Gaines said. “I think it’s part of the defensive scheme and I’m excited about it.”

Phillips was not at practice Monday because he was attending to a family situation, coach Sean McVay said. But upon review of the practice tape, he will no doubt be pleased to see Gaines’ play.

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Gaines, a sixth-round draft pick from Missouri in 2014, started 15 games as a rookie and appeared on track for a valuable role in 2015.

But he suffered a foot injury during the first week of training camp and underwent surgery. Last season, the training and coaching staffs brought Gaines along slowly. He started 10 games but never appeared physically sound.

Now he is competing with Kayvon Webster — who played as a backup under Phillips in Denver — and others to start opposite Trumaine Johnson.

“This is the best I’ve felt since probably my rookie year,” Gaines said. “So I’m just trying to get back into it and not do everything at one time. I think that’s been my problem the last couple years.”

Gaines said he was enjoying the competition and the energetic environment that McVay and his staff have created.

McVay, the NFL’s youngest coach, occasionally jumps into drills to cover receivers.

Asked to rate McVay’s coverage skills, Gaines laughed.

“Man, about a 3, honestly,” he said. “You can tell him I said that too.”

Backfield opportunity

Running back Lance Dunbar, signed in the offseason to be Todd Gurley’s backup, has not practiced because of a knee injury, opening the door for Malcolm Brown, Aaron Green and Justin Davis, an undrafted rookie from USC.

Brown, a third-year pro, played mainly on special teams last season. He rushed for 39 yards and caught three passes.

“He’s kind of got a quiet confidence about himself, where he just goes about his business, very reliable, knows exactly what to do and how to do it and he is a guy that we can depend on,” McVay said, adding, “Malcolm has done a nice job establishing himself as that secondary role.”

Green and Davis have “shown some flashes,” McVay said.

Famous alums

McVay’s phone was buzzing Sunday after the Dodgers’ Kyle Farmer hit a walk-off double in his first major league at-bat.

McVay, 31, and Farmer, 26, both played quarterback at Marist School in Atlanta. McVay said he met Farmer at the school’s football camp when the Dodgers player was an eighth-grader and McVay was working as a camp counselor.

McVay led Marist to a state title in 2003. Farmer led Marist to a state title game in 2008.

So former coaches texted McVay with news about Farmer’s game-winning exploits for the Dodgers.

“That’s a cool deal,” McVay said. “They said, ‘It’s nice to see two guys having success in L.A.’

“I said, ‘We haven’t won a game yet. He’s making plays already. So you can say that after we win some games.’ ”

Notes

The Rams on Tuesday will be in full pads for the first time…. Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth and linebacker Connor Barwin were among several players held out of drills on Monday. “What’s important for these guys is getting them at their optimum health by Sept. 10,when we open the season,” McVay said. “So, there’s a handful of guys that we want to be careful with…. Mostly it’s just exclusive to some of the veteran players.”

gary.klein@latimes.com

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein


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