Laurinaitis Believes Defense Can Carry On

James Laurinaitis is fighting to be one of nine new starters on the Ohio State defense in 2006. Laurinaitis, a sophomore, is vying to replace Bobby Carpenter at the strongside linebacker spot. He spoke after Saturday's spring game on how the defense reacted this spring as well as on the competition at the linebacker spots.

Ohio State sophomore James Laurinaitis entered and left spring practice as the listed starter at strongside linebacker spot for the Buckeyes.

But with junior Curtis Terry and junior college transfer Larry Grant on his heels, the 6-3, 244-pound Laurinaitis is leaving nothing to chance.

"I really like my chances to start in the fall," Laurinaitis said. "I just have to continue to work at it and prepare, knowing that you've got guys like Curtis Terry and the other guys right on your heels. That will make us all work harder to prepare."

There was plenty of competition in the linebacker corps this spring as the Buckeyes tried to replace the star-studded group of outgoing seniors A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel.

As the spring ended, Laurinaitis seemed to be the heir apparent to Carpenter at the strongside spot. Senior John Kerr will battle with classmate Mike D'Andrea (provided he is healthy) and junior Chad Hoobler at the middle linebacker spot in the fall. Sophomore Marcus Freeman was holding an edge over early enrolling freshman Ross Homan and redshirt freshman Austin Spitler at the wideside linebacker spot.

Laurinaitis said that competition should only make the linebacker group better.

"It's been great and I think it's going to be great all year," he said. "You can have one bad week of practice and you know that the coach will be confident in the next guy. It helps you to focus and keep that drive because you know you can't take a day off. The guy behind you or next to you is working out and that's one day closer he is to taking that spot. It keeps a driving passion for everybody in our group."

Laurinaitis capped his spring on a strong note with six tackles and an interception for the Gray team in Saturday's spring game, which was won by the Scarlet team 12-0.

"I think I did pretty well," Laurinaitis said. "That interception kind of tops off the day. There are little things here and there you need to work on, but for the most part today was about flying around and having fun."

Laurinaitis made a bobbling interception of a pass from Scarlet quarterback Rob Schoenhoft. He then showed some speed by returning the pick 18 yards.

"I was giving Robby crap during the week," Laurinaitis said. "Robby is a great player. Last year in camp, he threw one right through my hands. I said, ‘Robby, how about you throwing me a nice pick today.'

"I just dropped back into my zone. The guy I was supposed to have did not release. The back stayed in to block, so I was kind of free to read his eyes. I read it and I should have caught it the first time I got my hands on it. I bobbled it, but that's why I'm a linebacker and not a running back."

Laurinaitis, a native of Wayzata, Minn., said the players appreciated the outpouring of support from the 63,000 fans in attendance at the Horseshoe.

"It's neat to play in front of 63-some-thousand on a nice spring day like this," he said. "Where I come from, they don't play outdoor ball in the spring. To see everything filled up like it was, that's a dream come true.

"One of my best friends goes to Minnesota and now I get to call him and ask him how the Metrodome was. This was almost as much as the Metrodome holds. I'm going to call him up and ask him how the weather was inside the Metrodome. People love football out here and this is where I want to be."

Of course, Laurinaitis got a big break late last season when Carpenter went down with a leg injury. He played a huge portion of OSU's season-ending wins at Michigan and over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

But, just as what happened when Laurinaitis subbed for Carpenter against Michigan, his father, pro wrestler Joe Laurinaitis (known worldwide as Road Warrior Animal), missed the spring game because he was on tour with the WWE in Europe.

"He was actually in Italy wrestling," Laurinaitis said. "I'll get to call him and let him know what's happening.

"When we played Michigan, he was in Europe then as well. I told my dad to stay in Europe all season. It kills him that he couldn't be here. His brother and my uncle is the road agent for the guys and he hires them. It's been a little bit of a family feud because my dad wanted to come here over that. But I'm proud of him and what he's doing. I wish he could have been here, but I'm sure I will be talking to him for two hours trying to explain every play."

Laurinaitis, one of three Buckeyes to log a 4.0 GPA during winter quarter, is vying to be one of nine new starters on defense. But he hopes the Buckeyes can maintain their strong level of play despite so many new faces.

"I think it was a great spring," he said. "A lot of the guys who were backups last year on defense and could have played at other programs, they stepped up this spring and said, ‘Hey, we can do this. This is our chance. We're the next wave of great players here on defense.'

"It's a tradition here, so it's an extra added pressure. We want to replace those guys. You can't fill their shoes, but you can hope to build your own shoes. Coach (Butch) Reynolds told me that and I've always kind of looked at that from a great perspective."

But Laurinaitis noted that the defense, at least in the spring, seemed to be on top of its game.

"The spring gave us a lot of confidence as a defense," he said. "We beat the offense in the jersey scrimmage and we held them to 12 points today in the spring game. That gives you a lot of confidence in what we can do as a team. We expect to build on it through the summer and on into the fall.

"We know our offense can carry us, but as a defense we want to show that we are maturing and we're not just the young guys any more."

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