Gaines has opportunity to make immediate impact at nose tackle

The Rams entered the final day of the 2019 NFL Draft with one clear objective — draft defensive lineman Greg Gaines out of Washington.

General manger Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay were able to pull that off at No. 134 after a draft-day trade.

“I know Sean and I spent this morning kind of going through the day’s game plan and the first … priority was to try to figure out how we could get to a spot in the draft and draft Gaines to fill the nose-tackle-type spot in our base defense,” Snead said following the day’s action.

As you may have seen on Gaines’ inside the call video on therams.com, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips pointed out that there’s a place for the incoming rookie on Los Angeles’ defensive line at nose tackle with Ndamukong Suh’s departure.

“Big shoes to fill — I’m up for it,” Gaines told Phillips on the call.

And listed at 6-foot-1 and 312 pounds, Gaines’ ability to be a strong nose tackle was a big part of the reason Los Angeles wanted to draft him in the first place.

The Los Angeles Rams select Washington defensive tackle Greg Gaines with the 134th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

“Some of the things we talked about — how we get better specific to our scheme, but then also defensively in terms of playing the run a little bit better, I think that’ll be a key factor for really being stout inside,” McVay said. “And we feel like Greg will provide that.”

“When you look at a Greg Gaines, you can really take a specific approach where as a nose in our base defensive package, here’s the skillset he provides, and here’s why they thought of him so highly with our scouting staff,” McVay later added. “And then when you bring him [to the coaches], we feel like we see the same things.”

After the Rams finished last season last in the league surrendering an average of 5.1 yards per carry, the team certainly wants to improve the run defense heading into 2019. Rams West Coast area scout Vito Gonella said he could tell on Gaines’ tape that he was a potential fit for the defensive line to do just that.

“He’s a run stuffer — just a block in the middle that will eat up multiple blocks from offensive linemen to allow our linebackers to run free, and get more one-on-one situations for Aaron Donald," Gonella said. “He’s a very tough, high-motor, high-effort kid who will run sideline-to-sideline down the line. Can’t say enough good things about him.”

As McVay said, the coaches noticed that, too. In an interview with therams.com, defensive line coach Eric Henderson called Gaines “a true grinder.”

“I think he can really help the run defense, has the ability to take moves, double teams, and split guys to make plays in the backfield,” Henderson said. “You got to have tough guys inside and Greg provides that toughness for us. We like what he’s able to bring to the table and be able to help us from a substitution standpoint, staying fresh, and will really, really help improve our rush defense in first- and second-down situations.”

Nothing is guaranteed for Gaines, coming in as a rookie. But there is certainly opportunity in front of him as a nose tackle in the Rams’ 3-4 base defensive scheme. Given the way teams have employed more and more three wide-receiver sets — perhaps best exemplified by the Rams almost always lining up in 11 personnel with one running back, one tight end, and three wideouts — Gaines wouldn’t necessarily be on the field all the time. But from a run-defense standpoint in those early-down situations, Gaines has a chance to really help out — and contribute early.

“We like him inside,” Henderson said. “He has the ability to hold those A gaps at the nose position like Ndamukong Suh last year, so the ability to replace that will help continue to move forward from a run defense standpoint inside, being able to help us at the nose spot.”

“He’s going to get a chance to compete,” McVay said, “but he’s a guy that we identified that we feel like will really do a great job as a nose guard in our base package.”

As for Gaines himself, the defensive lineman said he feels like he can come in and contribute right away.

“I think so,” he said. “I’m really strong. I got good technique, quickness, and I’m pretty smart — I think that’s one of my biggest assets. I learn the playbook fast and I’m good at studying offenses, so I think I can make an impact right away.”

Time will tell, but Gaines’ progression in the defense will certainly be a factor to watch throughout the rest of the offseason program and training camp.

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