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Ayers Brings Championship Mentality to Defense

Posted Jun 15, 2015

Having won the Super Bowl with the Patriots last season, linebacker Akeem Ayers is looking to replicate that success with St. Louis' formidable defense.

The Rams made a few significant roster moves at the start of the free agency period, headlined by the additions of quarterback Nick Foles and defensive lineman Nick Fairley. So while the signing of Akeem Ayers may appear to be an undercard, the linebacker has the potential to help a strong defense reach new heights.

Ayers is headed into his fifth pro season, having been drafted by the Titans in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of UCLA. Tennessee traded him to New England in October of last year, and Ayers went on to play a key role for the eventual Super Bowl XLIX Champions.

“I learned a lot just from my short time there,” Ayers said after an OTA session last week. “They are a team that prepares very well. That’s the way they coach the players.”

Ayers tallied 4.0 sacks for the Patriots in nine games, the most he’d registered since 2012 when he had 6.0.

“Once I got to New England I hit the ground running and haven’t looked back since,” Ayers said.

The linebacker recounted that he had preliminary discussions with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick about returning, but wanted to see his options on the open market. And once he visited the Rams, he knew St. Louis was the right team for him.

One reason why was his familiarity with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and linebackers coach Frank Bush, both of whom Ayers had worked with in Tennessee. Williams was a Titans senior defensive assistant in 2013, and Bush was Ayers’ position coach from 2011-2012.

“When Gregg put in some of his wrinkles, I remember I really liked it and I felt at the time that’s what I was comfortable doing,” Ayers said. “Bush really helped me make that jump from my first year to second year. My second year, I feel, was one of the best years I’ve had and that’s really because his coaching style helped me learn a lot, helped me understand, and helped me play at a high level.”

Another advantage the linebacker has with the Rams is the team’s many returning players. Ayers said one of his goals at OTAs has been to prove to his teammates that he’s worthy to be a part of what evolved into an excellent unit last year.

“Everyone around me has been in this defense,” Ayers said. “They are comfortable and good at communicating with each other, so it really allows me to come in and focus on what I need to focus on -- getting the scheme right, my technique, and the little things to help me get on track.”

The Patriots primarily featured Ayers as a pass rusher in 2014, so he’ll have to adjust to being out in coverage once again. But the linebacker said he actually thinks getting after the quarterback is not his biggest strength on the field.

“Covering, playing zone, and catching is something that I’m natural with and comfortable with,” Ayers said. “All I did was rush last year, so it is on me to get back and get into the groove of it.”

Even though Ayers has to recalibrate a bit coming to the Rams, he gained invaluable experience as a member of a championship team. He said that gives him some perspective on what leads to success in the NFL, especially because he’s also been on a team that won only two games in a season.

“I think I really have a good view on how a team that does it right -- how it looks, how they prepare, and how they work -- and what teams who don’t make the playoffs look like,” Ayers said.

“I went to New England and I saw how they did it,” he continued. “There were times when we were down by 14 and no one panicked. They had been there before. They had the confidence that they were going to come back, put it together, and win a game. I think that’s the biggest thing -- just knowing what you’re doing and really being a smart team.”

Ayers was in attendance to receive his Super Bowl ring in Massachusetts over the weekend, and said he might bring it to Rams Park as a motivational tool. But these players may not even need it. Ayers said while the Rams are young, they appear to be on the right road to success.

“This team has all the ability, and all the talent, and everything you need,” he said. “But it can’t just be the offense, and it can’t just be the defense -- it has to be us as a team having that confidence and that mindset that you’re going to win.”