After finishing his Ohio State career as the first player in school history to be so honored, linebacker James Laurinaitis now has his sights set on the forthcoming NFL Draft. As he prepares to work out for pro teams while at the NFL Scouting Combine, the two-time team captain for the Buckeyes finds himself a bit hamstrung by the position he plays.
Although he played strong-side linebacker in limited duty as a freshman at OSU, Laurinaitis is a middle linebacker. In today's NFL, that is considered a less-than-sexy position that makes him less desirable to teams at the top of the draft board.
"Inside linebackers don't go very high," Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "They're like offensive guards or non-special tight ends."
That is a fact Laurinaitis said he is willing to accept as he met with reporters Feb. 21 prior to going through a full slate of workouts in Indianapolis.
"I think it's just the way the game is right now," he said. "You look at what's hot right now and some of the best players are. You look at the way Prime Time was, Deion (Sanders), and the way he used to make picks and take them to the house. Everyone was like, ‘OK, we're getting a corner.' You've got to find out what's hot. I think inside linebackers are guys that are extremely valuable."
Of course, Laurinaitis' opinion might be slightly biased given his occupation. During his collegiate career, the Buckeyes primarily utilized a 4-3 defense but would occasionally use a version of a 3-4 that featured a hybrid linebacker/defensive end near the line of scrimmage.
His tenure at OSU has him comfortable at a number of positions: Laurinaitis said he can play all three linebacker spots in a 4-3 defense and the two inside spots in a 3-4.
Give the choice, however, he would rather be inside.
"I like being in charge," he said. "I like being a leader on the defense. I like making the calls. Being in the middle, I like having a chance to make every play, to be in on every tackle."
Laurinaitis is at this year's edition of the combine despite the fact that he was projected as a likely first-round pick one year ago after recording 121 tackles and earning the Butkus Award. However, he opted to return for his senior season at OSU for a number of reasons – one of which was a promise he made to head coach Jim Tressel that dated back to when he was being recruited.
"I told Coach Tressel I was going to come here for four or five years, whether I redshirt or not," Laurinaitis said. "When I told him I was coming back I said, ‘I told you I was coming here for at least four years so I want to honor that.' A free scholarship is something I think too many guys take for granted."
As a senior, Laurinaitis recorded 130 tackles and led the team in stops for a third consecutive year. He finished his career seventh on the school's all-time list with 375 tackles.
By coming back for another go-round, Laurinaitis said he gained a greater overall understanding of the team's defense that he hopes will carry over to the next level. The most rewarding part of a season where the Buckeyes did not reach the BCS National Championship for the first time in three years was seeing how the team responded to adversity along the way, he said.
"I had to step up and lead more so than my junior year," the two-time team captain said. "We had some adversity this year. We had a big loss to USC, we had a tough loss to Penn State. I think the season turned around for us in that Wisconsin game where we came back on that last-minute drive and won. The team the year before would've lost that game."
Listed at 6-3, 240 pounds in the team's final release of the year, Laurinaitis weighed in at 6-1 7/8, 244 pounds. As of Feb. 21, he had only met with the New Orleans Saints but still has a number of meetings to go through with other NFL teams.
Laurinaitis will go through all the drills at the combine and said he feels his overall talent will shine through in individual workouts.
"I'm presented with an opportunity like this to do drills without pads on and you're in space, you're breaking, you're cutting, you're doing this and I'm not afraid to be on an island like that," he said. "I think teams will be like, ‘OK, we didn't know he had that.' I'm just hoping to do what I do."
Standing at a podium in front of a throng of reporters, Laurinaitis described his current situation as a dream come true.
"It's exciting," he said. "You get to walk down the halls and you see all the different NFL teams' colors and everything. It's something you dream of as a little kid. To be here and be a part of it, you have to take some time to sit back and enjoy it because not many people across the country get to do this."