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Gaines looks to bring added toughness to Bills' secondary

PITTSFORD -- Wanted: tough defensive backs who are willing and good tacklers.

Contact: the Buffalo Bills.

That pretty much is how Sean McDermott and the Bills' defensive coaching staff have gone about the process of their overhaul of the team's secondary.

The Bills will have four new starters in the defensive backfield for their Sept. 10 season-opener against the New York Jets. Besides the obligatory skills of preventing passes from being caught, what they'll also have in common is the ability to bring ball-carriers to the ground.

Such was the quality that primarily attracted the Bills to one of their newest additions, cornerback E.J. Gaines, who was acquired Friday (along with a second-round draft pick) from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

"Yeah, definitely don’t mind getting into the run game, tackling, causing fumbles, turnovers," the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Gaines said after his first practice with the Bills Sunday at St. John Fisher College. "That’s what I’m good for. Whatever these coaches ask me to do, I’ll do for sure."

Gaines didn't get to show his physical side Sunday, because tackling to the ground wasn't allowed. However, he has displayed enough of it since joining the Rams as a sixth-round draft pick from Missouri in 2014 to convince McDermott and the Bills' other decision-makers he was a good fit for Buffalo's new defensive scheme.

In 25 career starts the past three seasons (he missed all of 2015 with a foot injury), Gaines has been credited with 126 tackles. He also had a forced fumble last year.

Gaines has experience working outside and inside, so that could make him a leading candidate for a nickel spot. Rookie Tre'Davious White and Shareece Wright took first-team reps Sunday, the first practice since former starting cornerback Ronald Darby was shipped to the Philadelphia Eagles.

"Tough football players, corners who can tackle are part of what we believe in and are a part of the identity of the defense," McDermott said. "And (Gaines) certainly has done that over the course of his career, and we look forward to getting him on the field and integrated into what we do, and watching him compete."

Gaines was ecstatic to hear that he was being traded to the Bills.

He was especially thrilled to know that they valued his physical playing style.

"Man, just being somewhere that I feel wanted," Gaines said. "Being somewhere that I feel like expects me to come in and make plays and knows what I can do on the football field, so I’m just excited for these coaches to be excited for me, really."

Gaines will have a chance to compete to start and join a first-team unit that includes safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer.

First, though, he must get up to speed with a new playbook. The Bills have already played their first preseason game and the second is scheduled for Thursday night at Philadelphia.

"I started cramming (Saturday) night and that’s why (defensive backs) Coach (Gill Byrd), I feel like, felt comfortable throwing me out there (Sunday)," Gaines said. "I wouldn’t say I’m more worried about the preseason games as I am the first regular season game and just being prepared as far as these play calls and getting the offenses down that we’re playing and everything.

"It’s just kind of coming into one and forgetting about the defense I just left. I’m just doing that right now and focusing on that."

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