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For Starters: Young Linebackers Settle In

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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
    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
      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
        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.
        The more things change, the more they stay the same.


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        • RamFan_Til_I_Die
          Young LBs get an early test
          by RamFan_Til_I_Die
          Young LBs get an early test
          BY BILL COATS

          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,...
          -09-14-2009, 08:28 AM
        • r8rh8rmike
          Success In The Details For Laurinaitis
          by r8rh8rmike
          Success in the Details for Laurinaitis
          By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer

          Posted 2 hours ago

          As the focal point of the Ohio State defense in his four years as a Buckeye, linebacker James Laurinaitis made plenty of big plays that would be cause for celebration.

          But in Columbus, any type of signature move was frowned upon by the coaching staff.

          “In college, the whole celebrating thing was kind of frowned upon,” Laurinaitis said. “Our linebacker coach wanted you to act like you had been there before.”

          So Laurinaitis did just that, acting like he had been there before because in most cases, he had. That approach carried into his rookie season with the Rams where he led the team in tackles and made his share of big plays.

          Never did Laurinaitis pound his chest or go off into a wild celebration. But before this season, cornerback Ron Bartell let Laurinaitis know that it’s OK to cut it loose after a big play.

          As if Bartell’s encouragement wasn’t enough, Laurinaitis also took exception to a perceived slight in the Madden ’11 video game.

          That game added a “swagger” rating feature this year where players are rated for the way they carry themselves. While the ratings seemed to be pretty arbitrary (former Rams safety David Roach was a 90), Laurinaitis was none too pleased to see that his rating matched his jersey number.

          With that, Laurinaitis set about finding ways to get his swagger rating up and decided that incorporating pieces of his wrestling lineage into it would be a good way to do it.

          “You realize in the NFL that it’s not really frowned upon,” Laurinaitis said. “It’s encouraged to get kind of creative with things. I really have to give credit to Ron Bartell as far as the sack celebrations. He told me a while ago I needed to step that up and recommended with the family lineage to do a lot of wrestling celebrations hence the Hulk Hogan, the Ric Flair, some of the things I have thrown in there.”

          Now in his second season in the NFL, Laurinaitis has had plenty of opportunities to break out some of his new moves.

          For the second consecutive year, Laurinaitis leads the team in tackles and is piecing together a Pro Bowl caliber season.

          In 14 games, Laurinaitis has racked up 112 tackles, making him the first Ram since Pisa Tinoisamoa to reach the century mark in his first two seasons in the league. In addition to his tackling prowess, he’s added six passes defended, one interception and three sacks.

          Being the perfectionist that he is, Laurinaitis is never satisfied with his performance but does acknowledge that he’s made a lot of progress from year 1 to year 2.

          “I think I’m more accountable,” Laurinaitis said. “I’m better in the decision making on the field, getting guys lined up, knowing the game plan, know the details. It’s just part of...
          -12-23-2010, 04:20 PM
        • r8rh8rmike
          Rookie Linebacker Says he Is A Perfectionist
          by r8rh8rmike
          Rookie linebacker says he is a perfectionist
          2 hours, 30 minutes ago

          ST. LOUIS (AP)—James Laurinaitis(notes) made 14 tackles in his first NFL start, 10 of them solo stops, plus he recovered a fumble. But the St. Louis Rams’ rookie middle linebacker is far from satisfied.

          Laurinaitis, the team’s second-round pick out of Ohio State, is looking for ways to improve his play in Week 2 at Washington. When he reviews game tape, he said he tries to ignore what he calls the good stuff.

          “As a football player, you have to be a perfectionist,” Laurinaitis said. “You always have to look at things you can improve upon and I’m sure if you ask anybody on the team, everyone has something to improve upon, even guys with a long time in the league.”

          Laurinaitis said he’s been this way since high school when his defensive coordinator regularly asked him to mention areas that could use extra attention.

          The 6-foot-2, 247-pound Laurinaitis participated in seven tackles against the run, including one for a 1-yard loss, in the 28-0 loss at Seattle.

          He saw things while viewing tape of his performance that he wants to improve upon.

          “When you get satisfied, that’s when you decline,” he said. “You can never be satisfied as a player.”

          A starter in his first NFL game, Laurinaitis isn’t letting it go to his head. He is proud that he earned the starting role for the Rams, who he knew were counting on him to be ready to play.

          “In the NFL, you have no time to wait for somebody to grow up,” Laurinaitis said. “You’d better grow up fast. I take pride in knowing what I’m doing and trying to get everyone else confident I know what I’m doing. You need to be on the same page, no matter what.”

          Steve Spagnuolo, himself a rookie as the Rams head coach, said he thought Laurinaitis played well.

          “It’s not easy to go in there and basically be the quarterback of the defense as a rookie in your first NFL game,” Spagnuolo said. “He made some mistakes and he’ll be the first to tell you, but I think they’re things that are easily corrected. Overall, he played a real productive game.

          “That’s what he is, a productive guy. And if he continues to have that production it’s going to help the defense.”

          Laurinaitis said he welcomes the responsibility and challenge of playing middle linebacker in the NFL.

          “It’s a big job but it’s my responsibility,” Laurinaitis said. “You’re responsible for making all the right calls; you’re responsible for being the lead communicator. Whether you’re a rookie or not, you’ve got to do that as a middle linebacker.”

          Running back Steven Jackson said the team is not listening to negative talk about the club after the season-opening shutout loss. He’s also not upset with any fans who have soured on the team already.

          “All that matters is...
          -09-17-2009, 04:54 PM
        • 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
        • r8rh8rmike
          Rams Scramble At Linebacker
          by r8rh8rmike
          Rams scramble at linebacker

          BY JIM THOMAS
          Thursday, December 9, 2010

          The Rams have had a revolving door at the weakside linebacker position since the Carolina game on Halloween. Beginning with that 20-10 victory over the Panthers, four Rams players started at the position over a five-game span.

          Bryan Kehl started against Carolina, followed by Chris Chamberlain the next two games, then back to Larry Grant (who had started the first seven games of the season), and then David Vobora this past Sunday in Arizona.

          That chaos was partly an indication of good competition but mainly a reflection of the fact that coach Steve Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole were searching for answers at the position.

          Now there could be double the chaos. Following the season-ending torn pectoral muscle suffered by strongside linebacker Na'il Diggs against Arizona, the Rams must find starters at both outside linebacker positions. Only the middle linebacker spot, manned by James Laurinaitis, remains a rock of stability.

          In Diggs, the Rams are not only losing a starter, they're losing experience. Lots of it. Diggs, who's scheduled to undergo surgery Friday, is a veteran of 139 NFL starts.

          "It's real hard to recover from losing a guy like Diggs," Grant said. " 'Diggsy' meant a lot to us in our linebacker room. He was basically our heart and soul. Him being the crafty vet that he is, he knows all the right things to tell us to get us ready for the game.

          "During pregame and preparing for the game, when everybody needs something to talk about or needs some help doing anything, they just go to 'Diggsy' because he always had the answer."

          In Chamberlain, Grant, Kehl, and Vobora — plus David Nixon, who was promoted from the practice squad to fill Diggs' roster spot — the Rams have five outside linebackers with a combined 24 NFL starts.

          All are young in the league, and none has much pedigree. Kehl was a fourth-round draft pick, but Chamberlain, Grant and Vobora were seventh-rounders, and Nixon was undrafted. Nixon entered the league in 2009; the four others came in in 2008.

          They must grow up in a hurry. The Rams are 6-6, in the middle of a playoff race, and travel to New Orleans this week to face the defending Super Bowl champions and their high-octane offense.

          "We don't have any time to feel sorry for ourselves or anything," Vobora said. "We've got to keep going and pick it up where (Diggs) left off and not miss a beat. So that's what I'm concentrating on."

          So are the rest of the outside linebackers.

          "We're all competitors," Grant said. "And we know that every day we come out here you've got to compete if you want to play. With Diggs going down everybody knows if you want to be out there on the field,...
          -12-09-2010, 08:26 PM