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Linebacker Laurinaitis gets time with St. Louis' first-team defense

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  • Linebacker Laurinaitis gets time with St. Louis' first-team defense

    Linebacker Laurinaitis gets time with St. Louis' first-team defense
    Posted: Sunday August 9, 2009 5:43PM
    Updated: Sunday August 9, 2009 5:43PM

    EARTH CITY, Mo. (AP) -- James Laurinaitis is downplaying his increased time with the St. Louis Rams' first-team defense.

    The rookie middle linebacker out of Ohio State played with the starters during Sunday's morning workout, but he and coach Steve Spagnuolo say the added work with the first team is a reflection of his increased comfort with the system and not a move up the depth chart.

    "I'm happy that (Spagnuolo) had the confidence to put me with the first group, but nothing's changed from my mindset,'' Laurinaitis said. "I'm still going out there trying to learn, still asking a lot of questions and trying to get better every day.''

    Laurinaitis, the 35th-overall overall draft pick this spring, remains behind 11-year veteran Chris Draft.

    The three-time All-American is going through the same growing pains all rookies deal with despite a stellar collegiate career. He also won the Nagurski Award, as the nation's best defensive player, as a sophomore, and the Butkus Award, as the nation's top linebacker, as a junior.

    "We're seeing the things we thought when we drafted him. He's a smart football player, that's tough, can run really well,'' Spagnuolo said. "He's picking up things pretty well. The volume is getting heavier and heavier, but he's handling it pretty well.''

    The coach also pointed out that a number of players will be used in different positions and with different units as the Rams progress through the preseason. They have their first preseason game Friday at the New York Jets.

    Laurinaitis said that having veterans such as Draft and fellow linebacker Will Witherspoon, in his ninth season, has been instrumental to learning the system. Laurinaitis said Draft has been especially helpful in helping him take increased responsibility for making defensive calls.

    "I'm very comfortable doing that,'' Laurinaitis said. "This is one of those things where you've got to be very comfortable in your position and you've got to be able to make calls and you've got to be able to stand by them.''

Related Topics


  • RamFan_Til_I_Die
    Laurinaitis seeks to become leader for St. Louis Rams
    by RamFan_Til_I_Die
    Laurinaitis seeks to become leader for St. Louis Rams

    When the time came for the Rams to make their second-round pick in the draft, they were in an enviable position.

    Granted, all the top-rated wide receivers were gone. But both of the top middle linebackers in the draft — Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Southern California's Rey Maualuga — were on the board. The Rams decided to take Laurinaitis, sparking a debate and discussion among Rams fans that still is going on, and might continue for some time: Did the Rams take the right guy?

    Coming off a season in which the Rams yielded a franchise record for rushing yards allowed, wasn't Maualuga the best run stuffer of the two? Wasn't Maualuga bigger and more of a collision player?

    After the Senior Bowl, the Rams seemed to be smitten with Maualuga. But something changed over the next two months. There were rumors of off-field issues concerning Maualuga and with a struggling franchise trying to lay a foundation for the future, Rams management decided to make the safer and more conservative pick by selecting Laurinaitis at No. 35 overall.

    Cincinnati snatched up Maualuga three picks later.

    These are the types of decisions that can shape franchises and put their stamp on coaching and general manager tenures. For those reasons and more, no Rams draft pick, not even No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith at offensive tackle, will be under as much scrutiny during his rookie season as Laurinaitis.

    No one is more aware of this than Laurinaitis, who makes no apologies for being picked ahead of Maualuga.

    "I think we're two different style of players," Laurinaitis said. " And I'm not ever going to say anything negative about Rey. I think he's a great player. I do. I think he's done great things at USC. And I think he'll be a successful pro player."

    As the 2009 season unfolds, Laurinaitis realizes Rams fans will be doing a compare-and-contrast of his play with Maualuga's. Fans and even media members might be comparing stats of the two players, but Laurinaitis won't.

    "Oh no. Not at all," he said. "I think if you focus on what other people are doing, it takes your focus off what you need to be doing for your team."

    Laurinaitis says he and Maualuga have become pretty good friends since spending time together at Playboy's preseason all-American team function. Last season, they'd call each other from time to time, congratulating each other on this game or that. On the first day of the draft, Maualuga even called Laurinaitis to congratulate him on being drafted.

    "We're fans of each other," Laurinaitis said. "There's a little competition there when you're two middle linebackers. You're happy to be the first one off the board,...
    -05-04-2009, 09:42 AM
  • MauiRam
    James Laurinaitis gets license to be Rams' leader on defense ..
    by MauiRam
    By Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY
    EARTH CITY, Mo. — Lead them.

    James Laurinaitis, was hesitant to speak up at times last season, when he set a franchise rookie record for tackles, but Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has told the linebacker to take charge of the huddle in his second year. Steve Spagnuolo delivered that message to second-year linebacker James Laurinaitis this summer.

    "I told him before the first preseason game that there had to be a moment where he grabbed the huddle and said, 'This is my show now,' " Spagnuolo says. "He has to let the huddle know when it needs to step up and play with a little more juice. He's starting to do that."

    Leadership comes almost naturally to Laurinaitis.

    "I was that way in high school (Plymouth Wayzata High School in Minnesota). I was that way at Ohio State," he says. "I'd rather be the person making calls and getting yelled at if I screw up than the one blaming somebody else."

    Laurinaitis served as a team captain at Ohio State in 2007-08, the seventh member of the Buckeyes to be elected captain twice in a career. He says he grew immeasurably under coach Jim Tressel.

    "Coach Tressel said to me, 'The best way to become a leader is to be someone who can be trusted to make plays and be accountable,' " he says.

    The second-round draft choice, taken 35th overall, was all of that and more as a rookie. He started all 16 games and set a franchise record for a first-year player by making 146 tackles, 98 unassisted, to go with seven passes broken up, two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

    There were times when he wanted to say more in the huddle. Then he remembered his place.

    "As a rookie, it's hard," he says. "You don't want to step on toes of guys who are 10 years older."

    Laurinaitis learned the ways of professional sports from his father. Joe was never afraid to step on toes — or heads — as he pounded out a living as a wrestler known as "The Animal."

    His son, who ranked seventh with 375 career tackles when he graduated from Ohio State, quickly developed a reputation in the NFL as someone who relishes contact almost as much as his no-holds-barred father. The advances he made in understanding offensive and defensive schemes are equally impressive.

    "He's got a football mind," Spagnuolo says. "He'll probably be a coach someday."

    Laurinaitis barely allowed himself — or anyone on the coaching staff — an offseason in his determination to help St. Louis rebound from a league-worst 1-15 record.

    "This guy is one of the more passionate guys about the game of football," Spagnuolo says. "Even during the offseason, vacation time, he's texting me about what film he can watch.

    -08-31-2010, 09:35 AM
  • MauiRam
    Laurinaitis more at ease this season ..
    by MauiRam
    Second-year linebacker says he's comfortable
    BY STEVE KORTE - News-Democrat

    ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has time to sweat the details a little more in his second season in the NFL.

    "It's not going to be such a whirlwind like last year with trying to learn the whole defense," Laurinaitis said. "I know it a lot better, but there is always little details. You can always learn more. What I was learning in defensive strategy last year I can now flip to, 'What is the offense trying to do us?'"

    Laurinaitis, a second-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, set a Rams record for most tackles by a rookie with a 144 last season.

    He is only the second rookie in team history to lead the Rams in tackles. The other was Pisa Tinoisamoa, with 123 tackles in 2003.

    "He's been a great addition," Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. "My hat's off to Billy (Devaney) and (Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo) on drafting him, and actually getting him where we got him because he's a first-round guy, as far as we're concerned.

    "We put a lot of management skills on him. We expect a lot from him. He knows it, and the thing I just love about the guy is that he works at it. He'll be better this year than he was a year ago. We need him to be. He is a pro when it comes to his preparation and attention to detail. Hopefully, he'll have a long and illustrious career here."

    Laurinaitis' father, Joe, a former professional wrestler, said his son has always done his homework prior to playing games.

    "In high school, he had a three-ring binder almost as thick as the Rams' playbook, and he would evaluate and chart every play that he watched the other team run on film," Joe Laurinaitis said.

    Joe Laurinaitis is in St. Louis dog-sitting for his son.

    "I have two Rotweilers, and I don't want them to be in the house all the time, so he's letting them out," James Laurinaitis said. "My mom and my sister will come down at a later date."

    "All I've been doing is pooper-scooping his lawn for him," Joe Laurinaitis said. "What's wrong with this picture?"

    Joe Laurinaitis also has been attending the Rams' training camp practices.

    "He loves watching," James Laurinaitis said. "He loves being a dad. If he could get on the sidelines, he'd be right next to coach watching every single thing."

    Joe Laurinaitis was training for a tryout with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL when he was given the chance to pursue a professional wrestling career. He would take the stage name of "Animal" and become half of the famous "Road Warriors" tag team.

    "At that time, I was already benching over 500 (pounds)...
    -08-03-2010, 10:00 AM
  • MauiRam
    Laurinaitis takes control of Rams defense ..
    by MauiRam
    BY BILL COATS Friday, September 10, 2010 6:00 am

    Joe Laurinaitis made his living as a professional wrestler. His avocation was coaching kids sports teams — mostly the ones on which his son, James, played.

    It didn't matter what sport: Joe "drafted" James No. 1.

    "He kind of put the pressure on me. He made it known to the rest of the guys that he thought I was the best player," said James, the Rams' second-year linebacker. "When that's your father as coach, you have to go out of your way to prove it. You've got to be a leader."

    Thus were planted the seeds of leadership that blossomed throughout Laurinaitis' football career at Wayzata High in Plymouth, Minn., then Ohio State and now with the Rams.

    "I was voted captain my senior year in high school, and then at Ohio State I was voted captain by (coach Jim) Tressel and the guys when I was a junior," Laurinaitis said. "It's something that's just natural."

    Laurinaitis, 23, isn't a Rams captain — yet. But make no mistake: despite his youth, he's recognized as the clear leader of the defensive unit.

    "He accepts that role really well," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "When he was here in his first (spring practices), it was like, 'Wow, he really gets it; let's see what happens in training camp.' And he didn't skip a beat."

    Still, Laurinaitis was determined not to barge into anything. He vowed to "talk very little and learn a lot" during his early days with the Rams.

    "When you're a rookie, you don't want to step on anybody's toes; you want to earn your respect," Laurinaitis said. "But as a middle linebacker, you have to take control sometimes. ... You have to really know how to approach each guy. Some guys, you might be able to get in their face and tell them, 'Let's go!' Other guys, they'll want to be alone when they're having a rough one. It's a happy medium."

    Student of the game

    Laurinaitis has long had a knack for recognizing the offense's intentions. Some of that, he surmises, comes from playing quarterback in his younger days. But it's also a by-product of a ton of off-the-field study, a task that Laurinaitis, who graduated from Ohio State with a 3.28 grade-point average, always has embraced.

    "I like (running the defense), because I think it forces you to study more," he said. "You don't want everyone pointing at you, 'Well, he made the wrong call.' You've got to be on your game."

    Laurinaitis' game always was football, even though as a hard-hitting prep hockey defenseman, he had NHL scouts drooling. He was projected a second- or third-round draft pick.

    "Hockey was my hobby," Laurinaitis said. "Football was my love."

    Even before he was old...
    -09-10-2010, 09:34 AM
  • MauiRam
    Nick Waggoner on James Laurinaitis
    by MauiRam
    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    As he prepared himself for his first NFL minicamp, second-round draft choice James Laurinaitis heard all of the questions about getting thrown into the fire immediately.

    Rare is the second-round choice who has more pressure on him from the start than the player picked in the first round. But in this situation, one could make the case that the expectations for what Laurinaitis can do for the defense are at least on par with the level of impact expected of first-round tackle Jason Smith with the offense.

    “This is the NFL,” Laurinaitis said. “There’s not time to kind of wait for the rookies to catch on. You better catch on or you’ll be left behind. I think pace-wise, you better just try to learn and keep up. I think the most important thing I’m going to try to do is just compete and run around and show that I have a great work ethic and that I’m going to try 100 percent no matter what and the mental stuff will come. That’s the way it is for everyone.”

    Laurinaitis is no stranger to the pressure of performing right away. At Ohio State, he got his first real playing time opportunity as a freshman when future first-round pick Bobby Carpenter suffered a broken leg on the first play from scrimmage against rival Michigan.

    Thrown right into the mix against the Buckeyes’ most hated opponent, Laurinaitis embraced the opportunity and never looked back during one of the most distinguished careers a linebacker has ever had at the collegiate level.

    From that day on, Laurinaitis did nothing but produce for Ohio State. While he wasn’t the most athletic player at his position, few linebackers have the read and react skills of Laurinaitis.

    Those instincts to read keys and waste no motion getting to the ball helped Laurinaitis become a three-time All American and one of the most accomplished players in school history.

    In three seasons as a starter, Laurinaitis posted 366 tackles, nine interceptions, 24.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.

    In 2006, Laurinaitis won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player. In 2007, he won the Dick Butkus award as the nation’s best linebacker.

    “The production – the guy has been like this his entire career at Ohio State,” Rams general manager Billy Devaney said. “He’s been a tackling machine.”

    Not too shabby for a kid from Minnesota, who was once touted as a potential second or third round pick in the NHL Draft. Still, some questioned whether Laurinaitis made the right decision in returning to Ohio State for his senior season after he had accomplished so much for the Buckeyes.

    Entering this year’s draft, Laurinaitis was considered one of the two best middle linebackers available. Southern California middle linebacker Rey Maualuga was the other highly regarded middle ‘backer.

    Much to...
    -05-02-2009, 05:15 PM