Now that the St. Louis Rams have made it official that cornerback E.J. Gaines will not play in 2015 because of a foot injury, there's a job opening at cornerback, a position that previously appeared to be well-stocked enough to keep any young contenders from breaking through to the roster.
Without Gaines, the Rams no longer have any real pressing questions about who will start and who will be the nickel corner. Trumaine Johnson steps back into his starting role on the outside opposite Janoris Jenkins, and Lamarcus Joyner steps into the nickel corner role the team drafted him to play.
But there's a trickle-down effect that could offer an opening for undrafted rookie Imoan Claiborne, a young corner who has already made a strong impression in this training camp.
Claiborne was one of the prizes of the team's free-agent rookie class, receiving a $5,000 signing bonus after going undrafted despite playing in the Senior Bowl. At Northwestern (La.) State in 2014, Claiborne showed a knack for making plays on the ball, coming up with three interceptions and four fumble recoveries. NFL.com projected Claiborne as a third- or fourth-round pick.
In training camp and the preseason, Claiborne has offered glimpses of that playmaking ability. In a recent practice, Claiborne had two interceptions in a span of three plays and then picked off Oakland quarterback Derek Carr just before halftime in the preseason opener.
"He's got ball skills and he's been productive," coach Jeff Fisher said Friday night. "He’s got a good defensive mind and he understands things."
Of course, Claiborne's path to the roster comes with no guarantees. The Rams have Jenkins, Johnson and Joyner in place and have carried five corners in recent years. The fourth spot figures to go to second-year corner Marcus Roberson, whom the team has high hopes for moving forward, leaving a potential fifth spot up for grabs.
Brandon McGee, a fifth-round pick in 2013, remains on the roster after missing all but two games last season with a foot injury. McGee has missed most of this training camp with that injury, leaving the door open for someone like Claiborne to break through.
Given that we're talking about the fifth cornerback spot, the deciding factor could be which player offers the most on special teams. Either way, with Gaines out of the picture this year, there's now a job opening that previously didn't exist. It's up to the remaining contenders to prove deserving of it.