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Buckeye! All 3 Rams linebackers went to Ohio State

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ST. LOUIS (AP)

Before they've made a single tackle, the St. Louis Rams' starting linebackers have some notoriety. James Laurinaitis, Na'il Diggs and Larry Grant all played at Ohio State.

''It's funny how all the stars kind of align,'' Laurinaitis said. ''Crazy how it happens.''

Crazy how they get their first test as a unit against a fellow Buckeye, too. Running back Beanie Wells of the Arizona Cardinals was a first-round pick last year, taken one round ahead of Laurinaitis.

Laurinaitis got his first chance at tackling the 235-pound Wells in a different uniform last year. The middle linebacker recalls taking as much of a neighborly pounding as he dealt in a pair of Cardinals' NFC West victories.

Wells scored a touchdown in both games and totaled 142 yards rushing. A larger role in the offense has been predicted for Wells, although he has missed two days of practice with a knee injury this week.

''Gosh, I remember last year was probably one of the most sore I've been after a game,'' Laurinaitis said. ''He's a big guy and he runs hard. He's explosive.''

The odds are long, certainly, that of the seven former Buckeye linebackers in the NFL, so many landed in the same spot. Diggs signed a free-agent deal in the offseason, counted on to bring a veteran presence to a developing unit, and Grant was picked up after getting released by the 49ers.

It could have been even crazier. A fourth Ohio State linebacker, Bobby Carpenter, was among the final roster cuts last week after Grant beat him out for an outside spot.

Carpenter quickly resurfaced with the Dolphins, keeping Ohio State tied with Penn State at seven NFL linebackers apiece.

Penn State's representation is no surprise. The school has long been known as Linebacker U and Rams backup Josh Hull is among its alumnus.

Ohio State has a rich history at that position, too. A.J. Hawk (Packers) and Mike Vrabel (Patriots) are currently in the NFL, and blasts from the past include Randy Gradishar and Chris Spielman.

That lineage helped Laurinaitis make his college decision.

''All it takes is a couple of guys to be successful and you're like `Wow, I want to be like that guy,''' Laurinaitis said. ''I remember when I was in high school and A.J. Hawk was just a beast. That just kind of gets the ball rolling.''

Laurinaitis and Grant played together in college and all three played under defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, even though Diggs is in his 11th season and is nine years older than Laurinaitis.

''Diggs was centuries before us, but there's obviously camaraderie, there's obviously a brotherhood,'' Laurinaitis said. ''You know what each other went through in college.''

Laurinaitis had a team-leading 144 tackles last year, most by a rookie in franchise history, and started all 16 games. He's already considered one of the team leaders.

''He's really grown,'' defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. ''Now he's telling us before we tell him. Smart kid.''

Entering his second season, Laurinaitis said he's ''way more comfortable.''

''When I'm going into Seattle last year for the opener, I was wide-eyed running on the field,'' Laurinaitis said. ''This year I have way more confidence what my job is, getting guys lined up, making adjustments.''

The Rams acquired Carpenter from the Cowboys for offensive tackle Alex Barron in a swap of former No. 1 picks. Grant, a backup with St. Louis last year, emerged after showing off his big play capability throughout the preseason.

The 32-year-old Diggs has made 127 career starts. He led the Packers in tackles three consecutive years, 2002-04, and was with Flajole with the Panthers before signing a free agent deal with the Rams.

''Diggsy's a seasoned vet and he just knows how to prepare,'' Flajole said. ''Not only has he been a productive player but he teaches the young linebackers how to prepare. How you watch tape, how you study opponents, those types of things.''

Tagged: Packers, Rams, Dolphins, Cardinals, Na'il Diggs, A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, Larry Grant, Beanie Wells, James Laurinaitis

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