Rams getting a closer look at cornerback competition

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There's not a whole lot of wiggle room when it comes to competition on defense since the Rams return all of their 2014 starters. We've already discussed the battle between Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Akeem Ayers for a starting linebacker job and that is the one spot that seems to be truly up for grabs. But there could also be some things brewing at cornerback that are worth watching.

At the March owners meetings in Phoenix, coach Jeff Fisher indicated that E.J. Gaines and Trumaine Johnson would compete for the starting job opposite Janoris Jenkins (who has been especially sharp in these OTAs). Gaines looks like the early favorite to win that job, with the Rams then figuring out what happens when they go into the nickel. On Thursday, Gaines worked with the first team at outside cornerback in the first half or so of practice before giving way to Johnson for the second half. In both settings, it's been Lamarcus Joyner who has worked with the first unit in the nickel.

Although the team isn't in pads, Gaines looks to be as solid as ever in his spot and it would surprise if he didn't eventually win the job. Johnson has had some strong moments but also dropped an easy interception on Thursday. For his part, Joyner says the coaches tell him he's "light years" ahead of where he was last year on the mental side. That's a good thing for him as he attempts to lock down the slot corner job.

Some other thoughts and observations from the St. Louis Rams' organized team activity Thursday afternoon:

-- As always, the "this is an OTA and the team isn't wearing pads" caveat goes here. Take it for what it's worth but Thursday was the best open to the media practice I've seen from receiver Tavon Austin. Austin made a couple of tough catches in traffic in early team drills, one on a slant and another on a deep corner route. He followed with a tough catch for a touchdown in traffic during red zone drills. I'll have more on it next week but Austin said after this is a big year for him and he's tired of hearing the "bust" label thrown around with his name.

-- In what amounts to not a big deal but certainly not a bad thing either, rookie running back Todd Gurley actually took a few snaps with the rookies after practice Thursday. No, not full speed, live team reps but a couple of handoffs with other players on the field, nonetheless. Per Fisher's custom, he likes to keep rookies on the field for a few extra reps after the veterans are done for the day. They don't have helmet or pads on and it's basically a walkthrough speed but it's the first time I've noticed Gurley doing it in these OTAs.

-- Add Dunbar, end Eugene Sims, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and receiver Kenny Britt to the list of those not participating in Thursday's practice. That quartet joins a group that includes receiver Damian Williams, safety T.J. McDonald, safety Mark Barron, Gurley, cornerback Brandon McGee, tackle Steven Baker, guard Cody Wichmann and tight end Alex Bayer. With McDonald and Barron sitting, Maurice Alexander again got repetitions with the first-team defense.

-- Austin wasn't the only former West Virginia receiver making tough touchdown catches in traffic during red zone work as Stedman Bailey added one of his own. ... Quarterback Austin Davis threw a perfect deep ball for a touchdown to receiver Bradley Marquez. It was the second practice in a row in which Marquez has made a nice catch on a deep throw. ... Thursday was Demetrius Rhaney's turn to take the first-team reps at center. ... Undrafted rookie receivers Daniel Rodriguez and Tyler Slavin spent some extra time running routes with offensive assistant Jeff Garcia after practice.