NFL COMBINE

MU’s E.J. Gaines believes making big plays more important than being a big player

Updated: 2014-02-26T05:51:26Z

By TEREZ A. PAYLOR

The Kansas City Star

— Seattle’s resounding postseason success has made big cornerbacks all the rage, a fact that has not escaped E.J. Gaines.

Gaines is a three-year starter who contributed from the moment he set foot on Missouri’s campus, and his coaches have constantly raved about his consistency and production. But Gaines is also 5 feet 10 and 190 pounds with 30-inch arms, so he does not compare, at least physically, to Seattle’s rangy corners Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Byron Maxwell.

This much became obvious during Gaines’ media session at the NFL combine on Sunday, when he fielded all sorts of questions about the league’s newest fad and somehow became, in a sense, a sort of unofficial spokesman for small corners when asked if you have to be 6 feet 2 or taller to adequately play his position these days.

“No,” Gaines said with an amused chuckle. “Not at all. In my eyes, if you can make plays, you can make plays. You can be 5-6 or 6-5, it doesn’t matter. Making plays is making plays.”

This is not idle talk from Gaines; he backed it up in 2013. Gaines considered turning pro after a solid junior season, at least until he received a fourth-round grade from the NFL’s draft advisory board, he said.

From that point on, Gaines — who had 28 pass deflections in his first three years at Missouri but only three interceptions — was dead-set on proving he had ball skills to be a complete cornerback. He proceeded to snare five interceptions as a senior, despite missing two games because of a quad muscle injury.

Gaines also proved his worth against one of the draft’s most high-profile receivers, a player who happens to be productive and large. Texas A&M’s Mike Evans was a first-team All-American who led the Aggies with 69 catches for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns. He measured in at 6 feet 5 and 231 pounds and ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine.

Against Missouri, Evans managed to catch only four passes for 8 yards, both season lows, thank to Gaines’ sticky coverage.

Gaines said his daily showdowns against Missouri’s cast of trees disguised as receivers — seven of the Tigers’ top eight receivers stand 6 feet 2 or taller — helped him learn how to defend against bigger players, a skill he thinks will help him in the NFL despite the fact some teams, like the Chiefs, for instance, prefer bigger cornerbacks.

“I think I can sell them on the fact I’ve played large receivers my whole time at Mizzou, even in the Big 12, but also how I can help with my physicality and quickness,” Gaines said. “That makes a football player.”

In fact, the Chiefs were interested enough to conduct an informal interview with him on Saturday, Gaines said.

“(It went) good, if you ask me,” said Gaines, who also has plenty of experience playing nickel cornerback. “We talked a lot about the slot, and how I like playing it and being physical, what I could bring to that defense and my knowledge about the game.”

Gaines is expected to be a midround pick, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., but Gaines did not run or participate in drills with the rest of the defensive backs at the combine on Tuesday because of a groin strain he suffered during training. He anticipates doing everything at Missouri’s pro day, which is tentatively set for March 20, according to Chad Moller, MU associate athletic director for communications.

Gaines knows a strong workout will go a long way toward helping him prove his worthiness as a smaller cornerback swimming upstream against the tide of teams seeking the next Richard Sherman.

“I think I play a lot bigger on the football field,” Gaines said, “and that’s what really matters.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com

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