Young LBs get an early test
BY BILL COATS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
09/14/2009

SEATTLE Limping on a sore knee while searching for a bandage to cover a bloody scrape on his arm before pulling on his white dress shirt, Rams rookie middle linebacker James Laurinaitis dressed slowly Sunday.

Laurinaitis, the Rams' second-round draft choice, had a busy afternoon in his NFL debut. So did strongside linebacker David Vobora, a second-year pro making just his second start.

Together, the two combined for 22 tackles, according to the unofficial press-box statistics, in the Rams' 28-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Laurinaitis was credited with a game-high 14 and also recovered a fumble. Vobora was listed with eight tackles.

"I think they did well," said Will Witherspoon, an eight-year veteran who lines up at weakside linebacker. "There were a few bumps here and there, but that's the ebb and flow of the game. Every play, every snap means one more notch in their belts.

"They learned some things, they got to see some things, and that's what's great about it. You can't ask them to do any more than that."

Laurinaitis wasn't so sure about that.

"There were some ups and downs," he conceded. "They say the best improvement is from Week 1 to Week 2. It's important for us to keep our heads up, to learn from this, and keep that feeling of a loss right there and really work that much harder this week in practice."

Laurinaitis, 22, had been with the first-team defense since about midway through training camp. Vobora, 23, had gotten some reps with the starters, but the last overall selection in the 2008 draft didn't land a spot in the lineup until Thursday, when veteran Chris Draft was released.

"It's frustrating," Vobora said. "Defensively, I know we did a lot of good things. But there were definitely some breakdowns."

As for his own performance, Vobora demurred. "We'll wait till we see the film. It's never as good as you think and it's never as bad as you think," he said. "There's definitely some stuff that we can correct."

Coverage responsibilities might fit into that category. On the Seahawks' first touchdown, Laurinaitis bit on a play fake by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and tight end John Carlson was open in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard score.

"I was being overly aggressive," Laurinaitis acknowledged. "You're down there on the 1-yard line and you're thinking, 'Let's go after it.' ... I'm definitely at fault for that."

Early in the third quarter, Carlson raced past Vobora before hauling in a pass for a 38-yard gain. The Seahawks scored on the next play, making it 21-0.

"We were in Cover 2, he ran a great route, and Hasselbeck put it on the money," said Vobora, who added that he wasn't sure where the breakdown occurred.

Still, Witherspoon said the young linebackers earned a positive review, and a strong nod to the future.

"They did some good things," he said. "I think we're going to be a great core group that's going to get things done throughout the course of the year."