EARTH CITY — James Laurinaitis is downplaying his increased time with the St. Louis Rams' first-team defense.
The rookie middle linebacker out of Ohio State played with the starters during Sunday's morning workout, but he and coach Steve Spagnuolo say the added work with the first team is a reflection of his increased comfort with the system and not a move up the depth chart.
"I'm happy that (Spagnuolo) had the confidence to put me with the first group, but nothing's changed from my mindset," Laurinaitis said. "I'm still going out there trying to learn, still asking a lot of questions and trying to get better every day."
Laurinaitis, the 35th-overall overall draft pick this spring, remains behind 11-year veteran Chris Draft.
The three-time All-American is going through the same growing pains all rookies deal with despite a stellar collegiate career. He also won the Nagurski Award, as the nation's best defensive player, as a sophomore, and the Butkus Award, as the nation's top linebacker, as a junior.
"We're seeing the things we thought when we drafted him. He's a smart football player, that's tough, can run really well," Spagnuolo said. "He's picking up things pretty well. The volume is getting heavier and heavier, but he's handling it pretty well."
The coach also pointed out that a number of players will be used in different positions and with different units as the Rams progress through the preseason. They have their first preseason game Friday at the New York Jets.
Laurinaitis said that having veterans such as Draft and fellow linebacker Will Witherspoon, in his ninth season, has been instrumental to learning the system. Laurinaitis said Draft has been especially helpful in helping him take increased responsibility for making defensive calls.
"I'm very comfortable doing that," Laurinaitis said. "This is one of those things where you've got to be very comfortable in your position and you've got to be able to make calls and you've got to be able to stand by them."