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  • Laurinaitis takes control of Rams defense ..

    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 enough for organized leagues, Laurinaitis was into the game. "I remember being in Minnesota, putting snow pants on, going out in the backyard," he said. "My sister and I would play each other, and my brother would be the quarterback. We'd go one-on-one, in the snow, tackle, just get after it."

    Proving himself

    The Rams took Laurinaitis in the second round (No. 35 overall) of the 2009 draft. Three other linebackers were selected ahead of him, and Laurinaitis came to town determined to verify his value.

    "I knew I was drafted here for a reason," he said. "I looked as it as, they have a defensive head coach who had coached linebackers (in Philadelphia), that they made this pick and I had to come in and prove to them that it was a good pick for them."

    Laurinaitis set a franchise record for tackles by a rookie; his total of 144 led the team. He also won over his teammates with his work ethic, his dedication to detail and his quick understanding of the defensive calls and alignments, a challenge that typically falls to the middle linebacker.

    "They put a lot on his plate," said defensive end James Hall, an 11-year veteran. "He played with a lot of poise, and he rarely made any mistakes. For a young guy, that's pretty impressive and you appreciated that, the vets did. He gained a lot of respect, coming in and doing that."

    Defensive coordinator Ken Flajole has seen Laurinaitis grow as a leader.

    "I was impressed with him the first year, but he's really taken hold of it," Flajole said. "Some guys, you put that on them but they don't really like that responsibility; they do it out of obligation. He really relishes it."

    Cornerback Ron Bartell, a sixth-year pro, stressed to Laurinaitis during the offseason that he had carte blanche as the linchpin of the defense. "We told him, 'Don't be afraid to get on us older guys, because this is your defense now,'" Bartell said.

    While appreciative, Laurinaitis really wouldn't have it any other way.

    "It's an honor to have guys who are veterans on this defense, the guys that you play with, the guys that you go to battle with, see it like that," he said. "It's also a big responsibility.

    "But I like the role of being in control, because I think it holds you to a higher level of accountability. And when you have that accountability, knowing that you're the guy making the checks and the calls, you can't blame anybody else. It's on you."

    Just as he learned from Joe Laurinaitis.

Related Topics


  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • r8rh8rmike
    Laurinaitis Happy To Be On Time
    by r8rh8rmike
    Laurinaitis Happy to be on Time
    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    Before James Laurinaitis parted ways with his teammates and the coaching staff at the end of the offseason program, coach Steve Spagnuolo had some words of wisdom he shared in an effort to help his rookie linebacker.

    “Before I left coach Spagnuolo said ‘Hey, I don’t like talking about all that contractual stuff but just make sure you get in camp on time,’” Laurinaitis said.

    On Wednesday afternoon, the day rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans were to report to training camp, Laurinaitis followed through on his head coach’s request, signing a four-year contract with the Rams.

    Laurinaitis drove back to St. Louis from his home in Minnesota on Monday and had remained hopeful a deal would be struck in time for him to report and check into the team hotel before the first scheduled meeting on Wednesday night.

    “You don’t want anyone to think of you as that guy holding out,” Laurinaitis. “You don’t want that label on you and I am just glad it’s all over with. A lot of guys do mean it when they say they want to be in camp on time. You are missing a lot of football, a lot of good teaching if you hold out.”

    In the case of Laurinaitis, getting to camp on time is more imperative than the average draft pick. While he would miss out on repetitions and chances to learn the defense if he missed part of camp, he could potentially have missed out on a goal far more important.

    After the Rams used their second-round choice on Laurinaitis in April’s NFL Draft, it became clear that the end game would involve Laurinaitis getting an opportunity to, and eventually earning, the starting middle linebacker job.

    For most of the OTAs and minicamp practices, Laurinaitis did not work with the top unit because coach Steve Spagnuolo believes in making rookies earn their positions. With that, Laurinaitis enters this camp with plenty to prove.

    Of course, putting the pads on for the first time will provide just the opportunity he seeks in his quest to land the starting spot in the middle of the defense.

    “I’m very excited,” Laurinaitis said. “A lot of guys look good in shorts. When you are a linebacker, wearing shorts all the time is hard because your whole position is kind of based on physicality and going out there and showing what you can do. I will get plenty of that here soon.”

    The adjustment to an NFL training camp doesn’t figure to be easy for Laurinaitis, who adhered to NCAA rules at Ohio State with the 2-1-2 format require in college.

    Going back to a lot of two-a-day practices will be a change for Laurinaitis, who hasn’t had a lot of them in a short time since he was in high school.

    But Laurinaitis spent his summer vacation finding ways to make that...
    -07-31-2009, 09:23 PM