As we count down the days to training camp, Around the League will examine one player from every team set for a breakout campaign in 2012. We close out the series with the St. Louis Rams.
St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has amassed 376 tackles (leading the team in tackles in each season) with eight sacks and five interceptions over his first three seasons in the NFL. That's impressive production from a "Mike" linebacker playing with a revolving cast of characters at the other two 'backer spots, a group that has included Brady Poppinga, Chris Chamberlain, Ben Leber, David Vobora, Larry Grant, Na'il Diggs and Terry Tate. (Okay, that last one I made up.)
Laurinaitis, whose official playing-time documents show has missed just three Rams' defensive snaps in his career (and none last season), will have new faces playing alongside of and in front of him this season.
The Rams brought in Jo-Lonn Dunbar from the New Orleans Saints and added Rocky McIntosh to play on the weak side. Free-agent investments in defensive tackles Kendall Langford (four years, $22 million) and Trevor Laws (veteran minimum) were augmented by the selection of 6-foot-5, 322-pound LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers with the No.14 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
The biggest aide to Laurinaitis' jump from above-average middle linebacker to Pro Bowl middle linebacker is new head coach Jeff Fisher's defensive system, which the 2009 second-round pick is deemed to be an ideal fit.
"He's perfect. He's the perfect middle linebacker for this defense," assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said of Laurinaitis last month, according to ESPN's Mike Sando. "The ultimate linebacker for this defense when it started evolving was Mike Singletary. ... We could not have asked for a more perfect middle linebacker to install this system than James Laurinaitis. I remember watching him come out. I interviewed him at the combine when he came out and I loved him then and I love him even more now because he's exactly what you need."
Singletary went to the Pro Bowl every season he was coached by McGinnis. Laurinaitis could start a similar streak in 2012.