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Practice Report 10/11: Without Johnson, Young DBs to Receive Opportunities

Posted Oct 11, 2016

HC Jeff Fisher indicated Tuesday CB Trumaine Johnson will likely miss this week’s game against Detroit, meaning CB Troy Hill will likely start on the outside. L.A. also acquired CB Dwayne Gratz through waivers on Tuesday.

When cornerback Trumaine Johnson exited Sunday’s game against the Bills with an ankle injury  in the fourth quarter, Troy Hill stepped in and played in Johnson’s place opposite E.J. Gaines on the outside. The same lineup appears likely for this week in Detroit, after head coach Jeff Fisher delivered an update on Johnson’s condition following Tuesday’s practice.

“He’s probably not going to go this week,” Fisher said. “It’ll be week-to-week.”

And if Johnson is indeed unavailable?

“Troy steps up like he did in the game,” Fisher said. “I can sleep at night knowing that E.J. is back and playing good.”

Hill started the Rams’ victories over the Buccaneers and Cardinals in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively, before Gaines got back in the lineup opposite Johnson on Sunday. On Tuesday, Hill described what he’s looking to improve as a starter this time around.

“I’ve just got to play the game — not try to make the big play,” Hill said. “Just stay calm and just stay focused and stay true to my technique and fundamentals. Just let it come to me.”

According to Fisher, those are two strengths of Hill’s game that come through when he plays.

“He understands what we’re doing and he can really run and he has got ball skills,” Fisher said. “Even though he’s a little slight, he’s a run-support guy.”

Hill also recognizes that teams will likely throw at him whenever he’s out there. Seattle seemed to pick on him in Week 2, and he recorded 11 tackles against the Buccaneers in Week 3 — illustrating just how much quarterback Jameis Winston went after him.

But the young cornerback is used to the approach, as teams have been doing it to him for as long as he’s been playing.

“You’ve just got to expect it, especially when you’re not the big-time corner and you don’t have a lot of experience — that’s what you’ve got to expect,” Hill said. “So every play I’m out there, I have to expect the ball is coming to me. … And it just makes you a lot hungrier to make the plays and prove yourself.”

Hill’s counterpart on the opposite side of the field expects him to do just that.

“I think that he’s a confident player, man,” Gaines said. “I think that he’s going to go out there and play well in Tru’s spot.”

ADDING GRATZ

While Hill may be in Johnson’s spot for now, the club also added depth at cornerback by picking up Dwayne Gratz off waivers. The Jaguars picked Gratz in the third round of the 2013 draft, and the cornerback has made three interceptions, 12 passes defensed, and 119 tackles for Jacksonville in the four seasons since.

“We were really surprised. We were doing our homework with the potential with Trumaine’s injury and the lack of depth there, so we did our research,” Fisher said. “We kind of got wind that they were going to make a choice there — they did, they let Dwayne go. We submitted the claim and we were awarded the claim. He’ll be there in the morning.”

Fisher said he liked Gratz coming out of Connecticut, adding the club was excited to have him aboard.

“Great, great young man, really smart, a team guy,” Fisher said. “I think he was a little caught off guard by the release. Yeah, he’ll be here in the morning and we’re get him coached up as quick as we can to play special teams — he played predominately inside for them the last year and a half, but has the skills to play outside.”

And with a game across the pond coming up, the Rams have avoided a potential issue, given the team Gratz is coming from.

“He’s familiar with London — that’s the last place he played, so he’s going back. I didn’t have to ask him if he had a passport or not,” Fisher said with a laugh.

EXTRA POINTS

— Speaking of the upcoming trip to London, Fisher said the team began addressing with the players the logistical process of everything that’s coming up on Tuesday.

Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said the key is for the team to stay focused on this week and let the rest of what’s going on around the team take care of itself.

“None of our team is thinking about it, either,” Saffold said. “We are focused. We’re trying to get a good win and that’s the only thing that we’re focused on this week. When it comes time to travel and all that, we’re still going to be focused on our next opponent.

“So this week is the most important, and no day is more important than tomorrow,” Saffold continued. “So we’re going to have to win tomorrow, and we’re going to have to keep winning to win the game on Sunday.”

— While addressing a question about special teams, Fisher mentioned running back Benny Cunningham should be back against the Lions on Sunday. He was inactive against the Bills with a hamstring injury, and rookie wideouts Mike Thomas and Pharoh Cooper returned kicks in Cunningham’s stead.