While most of the attention for the St. Louis Rams turnaround went to QB Sam Bradford, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the team's defense posted one of the biggest turnarounds of any unit in the NFL over between 2009 and 2010. What happened?
The goal for the Rams defense this year is to be a top five NFL defense, so what's next?
Rams linebacker Larry Grant talked to us a little bit about the changes in the Rams defense, what's ahead for the unit and his role. After the jump, the second part of our conversation with Larry Grant. (You can read the first part here). Be sure to follow Larry on Twitter too.
First of all, what was it like to learn a new defense when Spagnuolo arrived in 2009? Grant, you'll recall, came to St. Louis later in the 2008 season.
It really wasn't that bad for me, personally, because I got here late in the season so I really didn't learn much of the defense when I came. The word from everybody was that we might have a new coach next year. From a player's point of view, it's kind of tough. It puts a lot more stress on us in the offseason to study more...and focus a lot more during OTAs and even the regular workouts. It gives us way more responsibility to keep our face in the playbook.
It's been a good transition. It seems like a lot of the players have a grasp of the playbook and the schemes pretty well here in the last two years. The sky's the limit; we'll only get better.
Obviously having a year's worth of experience with that system made a difference between 2009 and 2010. Larry's take on the unit's improvement last year and what was the biggest difference:
Turnovers. Turnovers definitely was our biggest improvement. And our speed. The way we played in 2009, our speed wasn't there because we were still grasping the defense. We played well at times, but you can definitely see from the film the difference in the speed and the confidence that we had out there on defense.
I'm pretty excited to see what happens. We haven't really had the chance to do as much as we did during the offseason of 2010. I'm pretty excited to see how fast we can move around and the confidence that we've built together in these last two years and see how it all puts together this year.
And what are the areas for improvement in 2011?
Paying more attention to detail. We got after the quarterback pretty good last year, and we want to keep that going and create more turnovers. Play with a lot more effort and create more turnovers. Being consistent as well. All season long we had good days and bad days, we've got to cut out the majority of the bad days so we can be a consistent top five defense in the NFL.
Readers of this site know that Grant was part of a rotation that started at weakside linebacker. I asked him about what the coaches were looking for in that spot and his take on why he did not remain the starter in that spot. Here's his answer.
They were looking for consistency, looking for somebody to come in and play consistent game in and game out. I had a chance to do it, but there was some times where I slipped up, had mental errors. This is a new season. Every last one of us is going to come in to compete as if we are the starter from day one, and hopefully the best guy who is most consistent and plays that position the best this year will help our defense as best he possibly can.
Finally, I had to ask about whether or not playing with his former Ohio State teammate James Laurinaitis made a difference and whether or not having a steady group of OSU players at LB, including Na'il Diggs, had an impact.
It's a good thing to talk about and a good feeling to be out there with two other Ohio State linebackers. With me and James playing together at Ohio State, it actually has helped us out a lot. Our communication is a lot different and seems to be pretty good at times compared to a lot of other people.
With Diggs being in that tradition of an Ohio State linebacker...we never really got to communicate with him per se because he was a long time before us, but he is the head guy in our linebacking group. Everybody always plays off of James, but when it comes to getting in that room and speaking to each other, man, Diggs is the guy. He's basically the granddaddy of the group that takes care of everything.
Consistency, speed and attention to detail. It's a pretty simple formula for results, but there are no guarantees.
Thanks again to Larry Grant.