Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rams: One Step Forward, One Back with Leber Signing and Laurinaitis Injury

Posted By on Wed, Aug 10, 2011 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge Laurinaitis, just hanging out and looking like a linebacker should look. - COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG
  • Laurinaitis, just hanging out and looking like a linebacker should look.
There's a bit of very exciting news floating around Rams Park currently, as the team is reportedly very close (read: pretty much done), to having a deal in place with Vikings free agent outside linebacker Ben Leber. The team has denied a deal is in place, of course, which is what teams do when they're still getting guys to take physicals and some intrepid media soul breaks the news a bit prematurely. So it's not done, exactly, but that state of affairs shouldn't last much longer. 

There's also a much less exciting (read: depressing as hell), story currently developing within the halls of Rams Park, as the team waits to find out just how severe James Laurinaitis's pectoral muscle is injured. 

Ah, the cosmic balance. The Circle of Life. One player is added to the roster, and another is taken off it. It's all so very beautiful, isn't it? 

The answer: no, not really. If James Laurinaitis is out for any period of time Ah'ma be pissed. 

But first, the good news! (My mother always taught me to lead with good news. Cushions the blow, and all that.) Ben Leber is an outstanding football player, and a significantly better target than I ever expected the Rams to land at the OLB position. With the tendency of Steve Spagnuolo offenses to de-emphasize the outside linebacker position, I saw the Rams aiming much lower on the food chain than Leber. He may not be the number one name on the market, but he isn't all that far down from there. This is a very, very good player we're talking about here. 

Of course, this particular free agency period has made for some rather strange bedfellows, as several very productive players have ended up lost a bit in the shuffle and taken much smaller deals than many predicted. Leber falls into that category, and his coming to St. Louis is a definite part of those circumstances. He's a beast in coverage, making him a natural fit for the weakside, where the Rams still lacked high-quality options. 

The deal is for just one year, which makes sense given Leber's age (32), the Rams' general low-priority way of dealing with OLBs, and the fact they may very well try to find a longer-term solution in the draft soon. Even if it's only for one season, though, Leber immediately makes this defense much better, and fills what was probably the Rams' weakest defensive area last season. I couldn't be much more excited, to be quite honest, without having to lose these pants. 

Now, the bad news. James Laurinaitis is the heart and soul of the Rams' defense, and one of the best middle linebackers out there. The Mike linebacker is easily the most important linebacker spot in a 4-3 defense, and second in importance only to the defensive end position in Spagnuolo's version. 

If James Laurinaitis misses a significant period of time, it could be very bad for this defense. In addition to just playing the position, Laurinaitis is also responsible for making many of the changes at the line of scrimmage. While another player might be able to step in and make the same tackles as JL, it's doubtful any of the other linebackers currently on the roster have the same kind of understanding of the scheme to be as effective a general on the field. 

Still, it could be worse. We'll know more later today, but there are injuries much more definite than a strained pectoral of unknown severity. At the very least, this shouldn't be the sort of injury that ends a season. (Fingers crossed) And until Laurinaitis is able to get back on the field, the rest of the defense will have to step up and do the very best they can to fill in for his production. 

It's nice to think the Rams just might have a defense actually capable of doing that this year. 

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