ST. LOUIS --While St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam is the late-round draft pick from Missouri garnering most of the attention, it was the one taken a round before him that found himself around the ball for most of the night.
Of course, cornerback E.J. Gaines was also the one on the wrong end of Brandin Cooks' touchdown catch and run that ultimately gave the New Orleans Saints a 26-24 victory Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome.
With cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Brandon McGee not playing, sixth-round pick Gaines got the start at corner and acquitted himself well with that one notable exception. He was a solid tackler and mostly sticky in coverage before Cooks juked him in the open field for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Here are some other thoughts on the Rams' first preseason game:
With a little more than five minutes to go in the first quarter, Sam got his first taste of an NFL game. Sam replaced Chris Long at left defensive end and played the rest of the first half and part of the second. Along the way, Sam had some good moments including a tackle on Saints running back Khiry Robinson for no gain and a pressure that forced an incompletion in the second quarter. Beyond his defensive duties, Sam also worked on the kick block and kick return units on special teams.
Without the services of quarterback Sam Bradford, left tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells, all of whom didn't play as expected, the Rams starting offense, such as it was, got off to a strong start and staked the Rams to a halftime lead. Shaun Hill, starting in place of Bradford, showed why the Rams coveted him in free agency with a nearly flawless outing. Hill played the bulk of the first half and finished his evening 5-of-7 for 84 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a rating of 151.2.
Gaines was one of the few Rams defenders who was consistently solid as a tackler Friday night. Like most teams in the preseason, tackling is an issue but the Rams appeared particularly shoddy, especially in the first half. Linebackers Ray-Ray Armstrong, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Phillip Steward and safety Cody Davis had clear misses that resulted in big gains for Saints running backs. New Orleans back Mark Ingram scored on a 22-yard touchdown run after a clear Davis miss in the second quarter.
Neither team used many of their starters so the majority of the game was played by backups. Beyond Bradford, Long, Wells, Jenkins and Johnson the Rams also were missing projected starter at linebacker in James Laurinaitis, the offensive line in Rodger Saffold and defensive tackle in Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. The good news is the few starters who did play didn't seem to have any noticeable injury issues though tight end Cory Harkey did come off with an apparent hand injury.