Laurinaitis looks to build on strong rookie season

Friday, August 6, 2010 ~ Updated 10:57 PM
Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis, center, stands on the sidelines between drills Thursday during training camp in St. Louis. As a rookie last season, Laurinaitis started all 16 games and led the team in tackles. (Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- James Laurinaitis was productive and durable as a rookie, leading the St. Louis Rams in tackles and starting all 16 games. This year, he expects to be even better now that he knows what to expect.

The Ohio State linebacker was a second-round pick before last season, projecting confidence from the start and emerging as a young leader. Turns out there was some bluster, too.

Early in training camp, Laurinaitis described his rookie year as a grind. He recalled never-ending pressure, beginning with the NFL combine in February, the draft, rookie minicamp, OTAs, training camp and then the season. With only a few weeks off during that long stretch, Laurinaitis said it was a rewarding yet demanding debut that he described as a "whirlwind."

This summer, he knows the amount of conditioning it'll take to get through training camp.

"Being a vet and knowing what it takes, it's a lot easier," Laurinaitis said Thursday after practice. "I trained with Larry Fitzgerald in the offseason. When you're in good condition, you can handle this."

James Laurinaitis, left, had a team-high 146 tackles in 2009.

Laurinaitis was rated as first-round talent by the Rams, who were happy he was available on the second pick of the second round. Laurinaitis was the fifth of seven linebackers selected in the first two rounds, and had the best numbers of the bunch.

Rams statistics credited Laurinaitis with 146 tackles, including 98 solo stops, and two sacks. He was just the second rookie in club history to lead the Rams in tackles. The other was Pisa Tinoisamoa, with 123 tackles in 2003.

"I'm a win-loss guy first, but as a middle linebacker you want to lead your team in tackles," Laurinaitis said. "I could have one tackle and we win, I'm happy."

Laurinaitis' father, Joe, played football in college as a guard and linebacker. However, he 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. His mother, Julie, was a body builder and weightlifter.

Having such athletic and strong parents meant little leeway for Laurinaitis as a child.

"My mom is strong as heck," James Laurinaitis said. "My dad was a 320-pound wrestler. I play more video games now than I did as a kid.

"A lot of my friends said if I wouldn't have gotten here, it would have been a shame because of my genetics."

His father is attending practices and he is taking care of James' two Rotweilers.

"All I've been doing is pooper-scooping his lawn for him," said Joe Laurinaitis, who is retired. "What's wrong with this picture? That's how it was when James was little though. When I came home, the Animal pads and paint went on the shelf and I was Dad, and here I'm Dad helping out my son."

Once football ends, Joe Laurinaitis said his son could make the transition to becoming a professional wrestler.

"James could wrestle any day of the week," Joe Laurinaitis said. "He's got that natural charisma and that presence in front of the camera. He could do it easily. I think the know-it-alls at the WWE know. But football is his love. Live it first. He's got no desire to wrestle until his football career is over."

His son said he is not sure.

"I'll think I'll have had enough beatings in football to not want to go and wrestle," James Laurinaitis said.

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