St. Louis Rams rookie Alec Ogletree has earned the respect of his teammates through hard work and preparation in his first year. There were questions surrounding him before the draft about his character as a result of a couple suspensions while in college. He was viewed as a far superior talent compared to other linebackers in the draft, but the concern of a rumored failed drug test and a misdemeanor theft charge were enough to scare teams off from taking him early in the draft. St. Louis has taken chances on players before, most notably starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins. So far, the risks have been outweighed by the rewards with the young talent that has been built in St. Louis.
Ogletree possesses all of the physical tools teams look for in an outside linebacker. He ran a 4.70 second 40-yard dash that he displayed on his 98-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Houston Texans. He may not have been the strongest linebacker, but in the pass happy league that is the NFL, strength is not the deciding factor. His athletic ability will allow him to cover the new breed of tight ends and keep up with most of the league’s running backs. His weaknesses coming out of college were that he failed to beat blocks because he didn’t use his hands well. Most would suspect that being one of the faster players on the field in high school and college, he never had to learn this technique and that he could just run around blocks to make tackles.
The success of teams running against the Rams has shown that he struggles to read run plays and ends up chasing tackles from behind. That is exactly what happened in Houston when Arian Foster gained 141 yards rushing and Ogletree finished the day with 10 tackles. For Ogletree to become a run stopper he will have to dissect plays sooner and use his hands to beat blocks. His lack of ability to use his hands on blockers also creates a weakness for him when blitzing. He might be faster than the linemen trying to block him, but you cannot simply outrun a lineman to get to the quarterback or running back in the backfield. This is something that he can learn throughout the year from the more experienced linebackers of the Rams. He will need to spend some time with run stoppers James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar.
Another knock on Ogletree was that he would dive or lunge to make a tackle instead of wrapping up and finishing tackles. That was apparent in the Rams’ matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars when he repeatedly tried to arm tackle Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew ran through these tackles with ease, and Ogletree will have to do a better job of wrapping up guys on the edge when he gets the chance. The lesson he should have learned is that NFL running backs won’t go down from minimal contact. Once in a while he will have to smash into someone to bring them down.
Ogletree has improved greatly in his pass defense this year for the Rams from Week 1 to Week 6 where we saw him jump a route that he knew was coming from watching tape. As he learns the offenses he faces we can expect him to make more big plays. Early in the season it seemed as if he was reacting to pass plays instead of trusting his instincts like he did against the Texans’ passing game.
He has laid out the ground work to becoming a great outside linebacker for many years to come as long as he keeps progressing each week. So far, St. Louis has to be satisfied with the results they are seeing from their rookie linebacker. In order to get back to the same defense they were last year, Ogletree will have to prove himself as a run stopper. Ogletree is leading the team in tackles (46) and has recorded three forced fumbles on the season. His ability to force turnovers has helped give the Rams a +6 ratio in the turnover battle. If he continues to force turnovers on fumbles and interceptions, he may force his way into the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation.