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  1. #1
    r8rh8rmike's Avatar
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    For Starters: Young Linebackers Settle In

    For Starters: Young Linebackers Settle In
    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    As the self-described “old man” of the defense, end Leonard Little is quick to crack a joke about his age.

    These days, when he looks around at the players who join him on the field on Sundays, he can’t help but notice a collection of young players looking to make a mark. Nowhere is that more evident than just behind Little at linebacker.

    In last week’s game against Seattle, the Rams introduced two new full time starters with just one start of experience between them in the form of linebackers David Vobora and James Laurinaitis.

    By the end of the day, Little was impressed with how that duo performed and excited about the possibilities they present for the future.

    “They did pretty good,” Little said. “For being so young, coming into this league and not having taken a lot of snaps, they are going pretty good. Guys like that are going to get better and better every week.”

    Headlining the list was the guy who was selected the higher of the two, second-round pick Laurinaitis.

    Laurinaitis won the starting middle linebacker job early in training camp and once he stepped into the role, he never relented.

    In his college career at Ohio State, Laurinaitis was a tackling machine who won numerous awards for his performance as a three-year starter.

    “It’s not easy to go in there and basically be the quarterback of the defense as a rookie in your first NFL game,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “He made some mistakes he would be the first one to tell you. I think there things that are easily corrected.”

    By the end of his first NFL contest, Laurinaitis had racked up a team-leading 14 tackles with nine of those solo efforts. He was all over the field and after film review was credited with forcing the fumble that everyone knew he recovered when it happened early in the game.

    Despite any butterflies he might have had going into his first NFL game, Laurinaitis showed the poise of an NFL veteran.

    “Overall he played a real productive game,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s what he is. He’s a productive guy. If he continues to have that production, it’s going to help the defense.”

    While Laurinaitis was extremely active in Sunday’s game, playing nearly every defensive snap and making all of the defensive calls, he wasn’t without flaw, either.

    Laurinaitis took the blame for a 1-yard touchdown pass to Seattle tight end John Carlson early in the game when he says he missed a read.

    Despite those types of easily correctable errors, Laurinaitis’ natural instincts are part of what makes his future so bright. Even on that touchdown, Laurinaitis was a few inches from getting a hand on the pass.

    And while Laurinaitis was happy with how he performed, he’d be the first to tell you he expects vast improvement on a weekly basis.

    “I played pretty well,” Laurinaitis said. “There’s obviously some things to improve on. Being the first start, it’s something that I think the most important thing is how teams grow from week one to week two. You can compare a lot to the preseason but even the speed picks up from the preseason games to a regular season game. I think as long as we do a better job of communicating and talking some things out this team will get better. All we can do is have that drive to want to get better.”

    For Vobora, there was no concern with knocking out any butterflies or getting adjusted to the speed of the game.

    As a rookie in 2008, Vobora got plenty of opportunities to play on special teams and started a game in Laurinaitis’ current middle linebacker spot against Miami in November in which he finished with 10 tackles.

    Vobora used that experience and built off of it all offseason, eventually competing for the starting spot on the strong side and finally claiming it as his own on Wednesday of last week.

    In his first NFL start at that position, Vobora fared well in posting eight tackles, good for third on the team in the opener.

    “(I played) better than I thought,” Vobora said after reviewing the film. “I did some good things but I think as a whole we have to get better. Obviously. There’s a lot to build off defensively so we will just build off those things.”

    Like Laurinaitis, Vobora was quick to say he had some work to do, especially in coverage. One of the main functions of a strong side linebacker is often to line up over the tight end and maintain responsibility for him in pass coverage.

    Carlson had a big week for the Seahawks against the Rams and the task doesn’t get any easier this week when Washington’s Chris Cooley comes calling.

    Regardless, the two youngsters playing next to Will Witherspoon made pretty solid first impressions as they opened a season for the first time as starters.

    Now, the mission is to take those impressions and correct any errors to become consistent performers on a weekly basis.

    “There’s a lot to build off of,” Vobora said. “We got some turnovers early, played physical and pretty solid. There really was a lot of good. We are pretty encouraged by it and we are definitely moving forward.”

  2. #2
    AtlantaRamFan's Avatar
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    Re: For Starters: Young Linebackers Settle In

    "...and after film review was credited with forcing the fumble that everyone knew he recovered when it happened early in the game. "

    Really? That's good to hear, since they were so amendment that they'd got it right.

  3. #3
    Mooselini Guest

    Re: For Starters: Young Linebackers Settle In

    The linebackers looked solid. Witherspoon is a great mentor for these kids.

    It's amazing to see how young this squad really is. We have a stud at MLB and Vobora was the last pick in the draft. Now starting for us? It's insane.

  4. #4
    HUbison's Avatar
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    Re: For Starters: Young Linebackers Settle In

    Hmm. Who would have thought, in early April, that our LB corp would amount to Spoon, SOA, and Mr. Relevant?

    It's promising I tell you.

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