So far, so good for Rams LB Ogletree
• By Jim Thomas
Alec Ogletree left his calling card early at Rams Park, during the first one-on-one period of his very first practice as a Ram.
“He picks the ball off and you go, ‘OK, we’re OK there,’” coach Jeff Fisher said after day one of rookie minicamp in mid-May.
The linebacker from Georgia actually had two interceptions that day in practice. It was instant affirmation that Ogletree has the kind of play-making ability the Rams thought he could deliver when drafting him late in the first round in April.
Naturally, a couple of “flash” plays on the practice field don’t ensure a long and successful career. But so far, the Rams are seeing what they hoped to see in Ogletree as an NFL linebacker.
“He’s not having any issues,” Fisher said. “He’s picking it all up. He’s got some rare skills out there, from ball skills, to instinct, to gap fills, to covering, rushing (the passer) — he’s off to a good start.”
During the pre-draft process, Ogletree’s 40-yard dash times were surprisingly underwhelming. A 4.70 at the NFL scouting combine, followed by times in the low 4.6s at his pro day.
“When you watch him make plays in college, you just saw such a faster athlete; you thought maybe the numbers were gonna be better,” Rams linebackers coach Frank Bush said. “But when you put him out here on this grass, he speeds up. He closes extremely fast. He’s got a good nose for the ball.”
There’s timed speed and there’s game speed. And it looks like Ogletree’s game speed is just what the Rams need on the outside playing in a division with fleet-footed quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco and Russell Wilson of Seattle.
Paired with Jo-Lonn Dunbar on the outside, and with James Laurinaitis in the middle, Ogletree’s addition could give the Rams the most athletic trio of starting linebackers they’ve had in years.
Interestingly, the Rams won’t have the traditional weakside-strongside designations at outside linebacker.
“We’re going to play left and right, so (Ogletree) will be on the left side and Jo-Lonn will be on the right,” Fisher said.
What that means is that Ogletree (and Dunbar as well) must learn both the strongside and weakside positions because there will be times when they line up over the tight end (strong side) and times when they don’t (weak side).
Many offenses are righthanded, especially in the running game, in terms of where they go with the play. Which means they run to the defense’s left, which in the case of the Rams will be to Ogletree’s side.
“Which will get him at the point of attack a lot more,” Bush said. “But yeah, he’s gotta know quite a bit of information. And then, when you couple that with some of the nickel stuff we do, it’s gonna be challenging for him. But so far, so good. He hasn’t had a lot of mental mistakes.”
Ogletree converted from safety to linebacker at Georgia, so he has had plenty of work in coverage. At linebacker, the Bulldogs lined him up in the middle and basically turned him loose to run around and make plays.
“They played a ton of zone,” Bush said. “But he’s shown that he could cover. He’s learning a lot. It’s great to have Jared Cook here to teach him some things about covering tight ends.”
There aren’t many faster tight ends in the league than Cook, so just going one-on-one with Cook in practice every day is honing Ogletree’s coverage skills.
“We’re confident that he’ll be able to cover guys when we need him to,” Bush said.
In college, Ogletree (6-2, 242) wasn’t known as a guy who necessarily excelled at taking on blockers, so it remains to be seen how he’ll handle tight ends coming at him on running plays.
Ogletree wasn’t called upon to blitz much in college, but has already shown signs that he can get to the passer in the pros. “He flashes,” Bush said. “He’s better with his hands than I thought he would be. I think he’ll be a bona fide pass rusher once he gets going.”
Low-key and soft-spoken, Ogletree sounds a bit like longtime Rams linebacker Roman Phifer.
“I’m confident in my abilities to cover guys and just do my job,” Ogletree said. “That’s what I want to bring to the table, and that’s what I try to do every day.”
As the Rams install their defense under new coordinator Tim Walton, Ogletree feels he has retained the scheme pretty well so far and is transferring it from the meeting room to the field.
In fact, Ogletree says the most surprising thing about his NFL experience so far has had nothing to do with X’s and O’s.
“The weather,” Ogletree said. “I never experienced a tornado.”
Until a couple of Fridays ago, that is. “The tornadoes that came through here, I wasn’t in the building, but I was nearby,” he said.
There is one thing Bush would like to see more of from Ogletree at this level of football — more of a sense of urgency.
“Things happen a lot faster,” Bush said. “Everybody’s a lot more professional and people know what they’re doing. So he’s got to kind of get caught up as far as speed of the game. So he’s got to have a better sense of urgency.”
It’s a game that will only get faster once the preseason arrives, and then kick up another notch or two with the start of the regular season.
Re: So far, so good for Rams LB Ogletree
Ogletree and tornado. Sounds great to me! All the best to our rookie LB! :ram: