In the 2015 St. Louis Rams’ third training camp practice late on a Sunday evening in Earth City, CB E.J. Gaines suffered a foot injury.
Originally, it appeared as a footnote for the practice report. Two days later, Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher made a casual allusion to it in a post-practice interview:
We’re going to do some more tests. We’ll probably send him down and have him see Dr. (Robert) Anderson at this point, so we did make a move.
No big deal. We’re just going to do some more tests. We’ll probably get him to a specialist, but yanno. Out of precaution.
Twelve days later, it was disclosed that Gaines had suffered a severe Lisfranc injury.
For those of you not obsessed with football that it informs you of anatomical displacements (i.e. not me), a Lisfranc injury is one where the full toe bone actually breaks off from the foot. Or put doctorsmartly, where the metatarsal separates from the tarsus.
His 2015 NFL season was over. Coming off of a very successful 2014 rookie season, Gaines was now on the outside looking in...and at the bottom looking up.
Now, nearly a calendar year to the day since his toe left his foot, Gaines will finally get his next snap in a game as a Ram when he takes the field in the Rams’ second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday:
E.J. Gaines (hamstring) was cleared to practice at full speed today. Will play vs Chiefs on Saturday barring a setback.— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) August 16, 2016
I buried the hell out of that lede for a reason. Gaines didn’t just miss the 2015 season. It missed him. He sat and watched as Trumaine Johnson, the corner whose preseason injury two years ago paved the way for Gaines to take over a starting spot across from Janoris Jenkins, excelled in the CB2 role. Jenkins flashed the aggressive cover skills that saw him in the end zone as much as any other corner in the league since being drafted in 2012. And Lamarcus Joyner continued to grow into his support role.
And watched and waited.
I can’t imagine that kind of torture. To know that you’re qualified enough. To have proved it. And then for a toe (a toe!) to sideline you into memory.
E.J. Gaines will return on Saturday.
The memory and the player.