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Practice Report 9/20: Catching Up with Gaines, Cooper, and Spruce

Posted Sep 20, 2016

CB E.J. Gaines, WR Pharoh Cooper, and WR Nelson Spruce were all back on the practice field Tuesday afternoon.

Since the beginning of the regular season, there have been three players who have appeared on all six issued injury reports and the vast majority of the time have had a “DNP” next to their names.

But cornerback E.J. Gaines, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, and wide receiver Nelson Spruce have been progressing well from their respective injuries. Tuesday marked the first time the trio has been available post practice since getting hurt, as all three were on the practice field.

Working one’s way back from an injury can be an arduous process, but Gaines, Cooper, and Spruce sounded encouraged that they’re closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Gaines suffered a thigh injury in the Rams’ third preseason game against Denver. This has been a particularly frustrating process for the cornerback, who had already recovered from the foot injury that ended his 2015 season before it started.

“The coaches have been real positive with me in keeping my head and my spirits up, and just looking forward for me getting back on the field,” Gaines said.

Now, Gaines just feels eager to play for the first time since Week 16 of the 2014 season.

“I don’t think I can put it into words, to be hones,” Gaines said. “I’m just excited and I’m ready to get back out there.”

Head coach Jeff Fisher said Monday that if healthy, Gaines likely slips back into the starter’s role opposite cornerback Trumaine Johnson. The Mizzou product didn’t appear to be taking anything for granted, but appreciated the sentiment when the topic was brought up to him.

“I just think the coaches have a lot of respect for me, and they can’t wait for me to get back, just like I can’t wait to get back,” Gaines said. “But my teammates, like I said, have been keeping my spirits high, and are just counting on me to make plays and get out there like I never left.”

For Cooper, the rookie said he noticed some discomfort in his shoulder when he made his stellar 19-yard catch in the second quarter against Denver.

“When I first landed, I kind of felt something — I knew something wasn’t right. It just kind of got stiff,” Cooper said. “My adrenaline was rushing, so I stayed in the next couple plays and ran another route. Started swinging my [arms in] my running form, and I kind of felt that it was just — something wasn’t right. So I came out the game, got evaluated and I couldn’t go back in.”

Once the shoulder was still very stiff the morning after, that’s when Cooper realized he might be out for a while. It’s been a tough process for someone who has never had to deal with an injury that’s caused him to miss a game.

“Every pregame, they’re out there warming up, crowd’s going crazy — it’s very frustrating not being out there with my teammates, working and going to work every day,” Cooper said.

“It’s tougher now than it was before,” Cooper added, “because I feel like I can [play]. If it were up to me, I’d be playing. But it’s not my call.”

The fourth-round pick said he’s made it to the stage where he can run and catch the ball, but it’s still up to the trainers, doctors, and Fisher to determine when he’s ready to play.

“We’re going to take it day by day to see what they say,” Cooper said. “That’s kind of where it is right now.”

Spruce had similarly not suffered an injury that’s kept him out this long before. And the undrafted wide receiver was not sure whether only playing about one-and-a-half quarters in the first preseason game against Dallas would be enough for him to crack the 53-man roster.

“Up until the time when they told us who was on the 53-man, it was super stressful just because I had that quarter and a half to really kind of make my mark. And the rest of the time, I had to sit back and watch,” Spruce said. “So when I kind of got the news, and they called up that team meeting, and I was one of the guys left in the room, it was a big weight off my shoulders.”

But dealing with being injured isn’t the easiest thing for the Pac 12s all-time leader in receptions.

“You’re kind of away from the team, so that’s the tough part while you’re rehabbing and getting back into it,” Spruce said. “But I think the most important part is just staying mentally into it, because when you know you’re not playing, it’s easy to kind of just not stay too focused in meetings and not keep up on the playbook. So that was a big challenge for me and what I was really trying to do. So I feel like once I’m ready to get back into game action, I’m going to be mentally prepared.”

For all three players, Fisher said the team will have to see how they progress through the week before their game status is determined.

“Tomorrow is a full-speed day — today was not — and we’ll see how they respond tomorrow,” Fisher said. “And then we’ll watch them on Friday and see.”