ST. LOUIS (AP) -- In four years at Ohio State, James Laurinaitis was on the losing end only eight times in 51 games. His rookie NFL season has been an eye-opener for its astounding lack of success.
Though Laurinaitis has more than justified the St. Louis Rams' decision to draft the middle linebacker with the second pick of the second round given his team-leading 125 tackles. He's also had to absorb a healthy wallop of humility.
As in one lousy victory for a franchise rebuilding from the ground up entering Sunday's game against the Houston Texans (6-7).
"Anyone that's a competitor wants to win," Laurinaitis said. "No matter what program you come from, you want to win."
The Rams (1-12) are leaning on any and all meager positives while limping to the finish line. Rookie coach Steve Spagnuolo suggested hopefully that an outbreak of swine flu that affected five or six players, including quarterback Kyle Boller and Jason Brown and forced the team to cancel practice Thursday, could be a positive because the roster would get a day of rest.
St. Louis has the NFL's puniest offense, a low-end defense to match, and might as well have 13 players on injured reserve instead of 11 given the likelihood Marc Bulger (fractured left shin bone) and offensive tackle Jason Smith (concussion) are done for the year.
"We're a little big banged up," Spagnuolo said.
Young and inexperienced, too, with 24 undrafted players on the roster, which makes them ripe for another whipping heading into a second straight home game that'll be blacked out on local TV. The Rams were about 8,000 tickets shy of a sellout Thursday.
Laurinaitis does his best to block out those 12 setbacks, the indifferent, half-filled home crowds and the Rams' perennial status as frontrunners for the No. 1 pick after choosing second overall the previous two years. Like his coach, he won't dwell on the cumulative misery.
"Coach Spags has always done a great job of looking forward, looking forward, looking forward," Laurinaitis said. "You realize this thing's going to get turned around and we're excited to go out there each week to try to do something about it.
"That's all you can do, just keep working."
Laurinaitis has a lot in common with Texans rookie outside linebacker Brian Cushing, also from a storied program (Southern California) and the team's leading tackler with 112 after being taken with the 15th pick of the first round.
"I was thrown into the mix early and got playing experience and learning experience," Cushing said. "The more game experience you get and the more and more you play, the more comfortable you get."
Unlike Laurinaitis, Cushing plays for a competitive team. The Texans lost four in a row by a total of 19 points before snapping that skid with a 34-7 victory last week over the Seahawks, and remain hopeful of a playoff berth.
Cushing has prospered on a veteran defense led by defensive end Mario Williams and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the NFL's leading tackler over the last four seasons. Cushing missed time with a sprained left knee in the preseason but hasn't missed a regular-season start.
"One of the things he's done that's been very rare is to be able to miss some time on the practice field and still be pretty automatic," coach Gary Kubiak said. "You don't find guys that normally do that, that young."
Don't think Laurinaitis, taken 20 picks after Cushing and the fifth linebacker to go in the draft, hasn't noticed Cushing and the rest of the guys taken ahead of him.
"I kind of want it to be one of those classes where people look back at it and they're kind of like, 'Dang, that class of 2009 linebackers, they were a successful bunch,"' Laurinaitis said. "I like to look around and see those linebackers making plays."
Cushing has 2 1/2 sacks, is tied for the team lead with 11 tackles for loss, and has three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Laurinaitis has led or tied for the team tackles lead in nine of 13 games, posted double-digit totals eight times, and has one sack, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
"I don't know Brian very well, but my guess is his experience in college has helped him in the NFL, just like I know it has for Laurinaitis," Spagnuolo said. "James has been terrific, he's been thrust into a role that's very, very tough as a rookie."
All those stops have taken a toll on Laurinaitis. He has a pair of bruised shoulders, and was so spent after last week's 47-7 loss at Tennessee he needed assistance putting on his sportcoat.
"You're more sore after these NFL games, because everyone's bigger and faster and more explosive," Laurinaitis said. "You're sore the day after and it gets better throughout the week and then you do it all over again in a cycle.
"Three more cycles and I'll have some rest then."
Three more wins for the Texans, who play at Miami next week before finishing at home against the Patriots, and maybe Cushing can postpone his first NFL offseason.
"The first season has been great," Cushing said. "The biggest thing is just to continue going."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)