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  1. #1
    MauiRam's Avatar
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    Laurinaitis gets free rein to quarterback Rams' defense ..

    BY BILL COATS Saturday, December 11, 2010 12:10 am

    When Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff begin to formulate a defensive game plan for a particular foe, the conversation often goes like this:

    "We get together and say, 'Can we do this? Can we do that?'" Spagnuolo said. "And usually we say, 'Well, he can handle it.' ... And we all know who 'he' is."

    "He" is second-year middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who despite his limited NFL experience has been given free rein to quarterback the defense.

    "We put a lot of management responsibilities on him . . . and I think he's just much more comfortable doing that" this season, defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. "I think he's much more vocal, and he's confident doing so. He gives us a lot of things at his position, and it's a lot of things that maybe the average fan wouldn't recognize."

    Things such as . . .

    "It can mean anything from setting the front (four), it can mean anything from putting different stunts on to checking in and out of coverages, out of blitzes," Laurinaitis explained. "There's a lot. And I think it just comes down to being in the rhythm of the game and just kind of knowing what's best."

    Though he's played just 28 games in the league, Laurinaitis' plate is full on Sundays, when he matches wits with the opposing offensive coordinator and quarterback. It's a mental gut-check, he pointed out.

    "If we're going to pressure and you sense that the quarterback's going to check into something, you don't want to run your head into a wall, so you check out into coverage," he said. "If you feel threatened that they're going to run the ball somewhere, maybe you put a stunt on to help the (defensive backs) that are supposed to be in the run gaps. You cover it up for them.

    "It's getting a feel for the game, knowing what the team likes to do, and what formations that they run with and formations that they like to pass" out of.

    The 6-foot-2, 247-pound former Ohio State All-American turned in an impressive rookie season after the Rams snagged him in the second round (No. 35 overall) of the 2009 draft. He piled up 144 tackles, becoming only the second rookie in franchise history to lead the team in that category.

    Laurinaitis, 24, is slightly off that pace this season, although he again is the Rams' leader. He has 92 tackles, which projects to 122 through 16 games. Included are three sacks, one more than he totaled a year ago.

    With one full season and most of a second behind him, Laurinaitis said he's "just a lot more relaxed within the defense, just knowing what's expected, knowing what to do. ... I'm a lot more confident in what my assignment is and what Coach expects out of the defense. I'm able to make checks with confidence and play faster."

    Improved defensive play has been a major factor in the Rams' rebound from a 1-15 record last year to a 6-6 mark this year that has them positioned atop the NFC West standings. The Rams finished 29th in the league in total defense in 2009; they stand 14th heading into Sunday's game at New Orleans.

    The addition of free-agent defensive tackle Fred Robbins and the re-signing of safety Oshiomogho Atogwe were vital, Laurinaitis noted. So, too, was the defenders' increased understanding of the system Spagnuolo and Flajole brought here last season.

    "Another year together, and you have guys that just know more," Laurinaitis said. "The same thing that's helping me individually I think has kind of transpired amongst everybody. Because they have a better understanding of what Coach expects of them and certain techniques, they're able to play faster."

    Laurinaitis became accustomed to winning at Ohio State: the Buckeyes went 43-8 during his four seasons there. So last season's NFL-worst showing by the Rams wasn't easily digested.

    "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't frustrating," Laurinaitis acknowledged. "But we had some great leadership, like O.J. (Atogwe), Steven (Jackson), James Hall, guys that show up to work every day at practice regardless of it. You didn't see them give up at all.

    "So I think as a rookie that helped me just kind of keep on keeping on. Just because of the record, you still have to be professional and go about your business and play with a lot of heart, just like the older guys were doing."

    Now, with the Rams in a playoff push, Laurinaitis is relishing the final month of the regular season.

    "It's cool to be able to say your goals are still right there in front of you; we have a chance to get the West (title) accomplished," he pointed out. "But we know we have a long way still. We have a tough road here coming up, and I think it's important that we focus on one week at a time and try not to look at the big picture.

    "It doesn't matter what anybody else does in our division. We've just got to focus on what we do."


  2. #2
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    Re: Laurinaitis gets free rein to quarterback Rams' defense ..

    James is amazing.What a great pickup,cant say enough about his play and leadership.

  3. #3
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    Re: Laurinaitis gets free rein to quarterback Rams' defense ..

    How in the world did he drop to the second round? Surely there's at least 15 other teams who'd like a stud MLB... 0.o

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    Re: Laurinaitis gets free rein to quarterback Rams' defense ..

    Our ability to draft studs in the 2nd round (JLau and Saffold) in key positions has really helped the development of this team.

  5. #5
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    Re: Laurinaitis gets free rein to quarterback Rams' defense ..

    If the Rams can keep up drafting like this, who knows what the Rams future entails!!

  6. #6
    C-Mob 71's Avatar
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    Re: Laurinaitis gets free rein to quarterback Rams' defense ..

    But guys, we passed on Rey Malauga! No way James Laurinaitis will be better then Rey. Didn't you guys see how hard he hits people?! We can't build a winner drafting boy scouts over better athletes.

    Ok ok, sure I can't harp on people wanting Rey over James, because on draft day I was torn between who to draft too, but needless to say Devaney hit another one out of the park. One that many armchair GMs would have struck out on.

  7. #7
    Ram Mar Ram's Avatar
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    Re: Laurinaitis gets free rein to quarterback Rams' defense ..

    Quote Originally Posted by C-Mob 71 View Post
    But guys, we passed on Rey Malauga! No way James Laurinaitis will be better then Rey. Didn't you guys see how hard he hits people?! We can't build a winner drafting boy scouts over better athletes.

    Ok ok, sure I can't harp on people wanting Rey over James, because on draft day I was torn between who to draft too, but needless to say Devaney hit another one out of the park. One that many armchair GMs would have struck out on.
    Rey is a Beast hands down, maybe we were looking for more intangibles that Lau provided. Athletic ability is one thing, finding a guy that can manage a defense like Ray Lewis / Urlacher type quality .. Devaney struck gold with his second rounders. the first rounders are looking pretty good too with Smith & Bradford.

  8. #8
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    Re: Laurinaitis gets free rein to quarterback Rams' defense ..

    Quote Originally Posted by C-Mob 71 View Post
    But guys, we passed on Rey Malauga! No way James Laurinaitis will be better then Rey. Didn't you guys see how hard he hits people?! We can't build a winner drafting boy scouts over better athletes.

    Ok ok, sure I can't harp on people wanting Rey over James, because on draft day I was torn between who to draft too, but needless to say Devaney hit another one out of the park. One that many armchair GMs would have struck out on.
    Heh, here are the 2010 stats between those two.

    Laurinaitis: Tackles: 79, Sacks: 3.0, INTs: 1
    Maualuga: Tackles: 55, Sacks: 1.0, INTs: 1

    It's pretty obvious we struck gold for picking a smart hitter/general. Maualuga may hit harder but he's gotten himself in the IR and in trouble off the field with a DUI, but then again, U$C is full of them and they often times score pretty low at the Wonderlic test.

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