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  • Texans, Rams both leaning on rookie LBs

    AP Sports Writer

    ST. LOUIS — In four years at Ohio State, James Laurinaitis
    was on the losing end only eight times in 51 games. His rookie
    NFL season has been an eye-opener for its astounding lack of

    Though Laurinaitis has more than justified the St. Louis Rams’
    decision to draft the middle linebacker with the second pick of
    the second round given his team-leading 125 tackles. He’s also
    had to absorb a healthy wallop of humility.

    As in one lousy victory for a franchise rebuilding from the
    ground up entering Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans

    “Anyone that’s a competitor wants to win,” Laurinaitis said. “No
    matter what program you come from, you want to win.”

    The Rams (1-12) are leaning on any and all meager positives
    while limping to the finish line. Rookie coach Steve Spagnuolo
    suggested hopefully that an outbreak of swine flu that affected
    five or six players, including quarterback Kyle Boller and Jason
    Brown and forced the team to cancel practice Thursday, could be
    a positive because the roster would get a day of rest.

    St. Louis has the NFL’s puniest offense, a low-end defense to
    match, and might as well have 13 players on injured reserve
    instead of 11 given the likelihood Marc Bulger (fractured left
    shin bone) and offensive tackle Jason Smith (concussion) are
    done for the year.

    “We’re a little big banged up,” Spagnuolo said.

    Young and inexperienced, too, with 24 undrafted players on the
    roster, which makes them ripe for another whipping heading into
    a second straight home game that’ll be blacked out on local TV.
    The Rams were about 8,000 tickets shy of a sellout Thursday.

    Laurinaitis does his best to block out those 12 setbacks, the
    indifferent, half-filled home crowds and the Rams’ perennial
    status as frontrunners for the No. 1 pick after choosing second
    overall the previous two years. Like his coach, he won’t dwell
    on the cumulative misery.

    “Coach Spags has always done a great job of looking forward,
    looking forward, looking forward,” Laurinaitis said. "You
    realize this thing’s going to get turned around and we’re
    excited to go out there each week to try to do something about

    “That’s all you can do, just keep working.”

    Laurinaitis has a lot in common with Texans rookie outside
    linebacker Brian Cushing, also from a storied program (Southern
    California) and the team’s leading tackler with 112 after being
    taken with the 15th pick of the first round.

    “I was thrown into the mix early and got playing experience and
    learning experience,” Cushing said. “The more game experience
    you get and the more and more you play, the more comfortable you

    Unlike Laurinaitis, Cushing plays for a competitive team. The
    Texans lost four in a row by a total of 19 points before
    snapping that skid with a 34-7 victory last week over the
    Seahawks, and remain hopeful of a playoff berth.

    Cushing has prospered on a veteran defense led by defensive end
    Mario Williams and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the NFL’s leading
    tackler over the last four seasons. Cushing missed time with a
    sprained left knee in the preseason but hasn’t missed a
    regular-season start.

    “One of the things he’s done that’s been very rare is to be able
    to miss some time on the practice field and still be pretty
    automatic,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “You don’t find guys that
    normally do that, that young.”

    Don’t think Laurinaitis, taken 20 picks after Cushing and the
    fifth linebacker to go in the draft, hasn’t noticed Cushing and
    the rest of the guys taken ahead of him.

    “I kind of want it to be one of those classes where people look
    back at it and they’re kind of like, ’Dang, that class of 2009
    linebackers, they were a successful bunch,”’ Laurinaitis said.
    “I like to look around and see those linebackers making plays.”

    Cushing has 2 1/2 sacks, is tied for the team lead with 11
    tackles for loss, and has three interceptions and two forced
    fumbles. Laurinaitis has led or tied for the team tackles lead
    in nine of 13 games, posted double-digit totals eight times, and
    has one sack, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble

    “I don’t know Brian very well, but my guess is his experience in
    college has helped him in the NFL, just like I know it has for
    Laurinaitis,” Spagnuolo said. “James has been terrific, he’s
    been thrust into a role that’s very, very tough as a rookie.”

    All those stops have taken a toll on Laurinaitis. He has a pair
    of bruised shoulders, and was so spent after last week’s 47-7
    loss at Tennessee he needed assistance putting on his sportcoat.

    “You’re more sore after these NFL games, because everyone’s
    bigger and faster and more explosive,” Laurinaitis said. "You’re
    sore the day after and it gets better throughout the week and
    then you do it all over again in a cycle.

    “Three more cycles and I’ll have some rest then.”

    Three more wins for the Texans, who play at Miami next week
    before finishing at home against the Patriots, and maybe Cushing
    can postpone his first NFL offseason.

    “The first season has been great,” Cushing said. “The biggest
    thing is just to continue going.”

Related Topics


  • 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
  • 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
    Laurinaitis gets free rein to quarterback Rams' defense ..
    by MauiRam
    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...
    -12-10-2010, 11:39 PM
  • Nick
    Linebacker Laurinaitis gets time with St. Louis' first-team defense
    by Nick
    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.''
    -08-09-2009, 03:59 PM
  • 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