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Countdown to Camp 2016 - Linebackers

Posted Jul 21, 2016

In our second installment of Countdown to Camp, team insider Myles Simmons breaks down Alec Ogletree and the Rams' linebackers.

With the Rams nine days away from training camp, we continue our Countdown to Camp series by taking a look at the team’s linebackers. Be sure to submit your question about tomorrow’s position group, wide receivers, on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.

LINEBACKERS

Newcomers: Josh Forrest, Brandon Chubb, Nic Grigsby, Darreon Herring, Cory Littleton

While much of the personnel on the Rams’ defense will remain the same, there will be a new man in the middle.

Alec Ogletree moves over from weakside to middle linebacker for the 2016 season, replacing James Laurinaitis. While Ogletree certainly has some significant shoes to fill, he’s been working hard throughout the offseason to ensure there’s no drop off in performance. Head coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams both noted during OTAs how often the Georgia product was in the film room at the facility, breaking down opponents and becoming even more familiar with how Los Angeles might attack them.

The position move is a natural progression for Ogletree, who appeared on his way to a Pro Bowl-caliber year when he suffered a season-ending lower-leg fracture in the Week 4 victory over Arizona. He registered 55 tackles and 2.0 sacks through those four games, including 18 tackles against Washington in Week 2.

If there was a silver lining to Ogletree’s injury, it’s that the Rams were able to place Mark Barron at the weakside spot and watch him excel. Barron re-signed with the Rams on a five-year deal in March after leading the team with 135 tackles in 2015. The safety-turned-linebacker also had a sack, five passes defensed, and four forced fumbles last year.

With Ogletree and Barron manning the second level, the Rams should be particularly fast as both have sideline-to-sideline speed. That’s a real asset as more offenses spread the field using three wide receivers for their base offensive sets.

Because Akeem Ayers serves as the Rams’ strongside linebacker, he’s often subbed out for a defensive back in nickel packages. But he’s been productive when on the field, tallying 68 tackles, .5 sacks, six passes defensed, a forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries last year. His best game came Week 16 at Seattle when he returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown. The Rams could increase his reps in pass-rushing situations this year, as that’s where he’s excelled in the past.

Bryce Hager and Cameron Lynch both return for the 2016 season after spending their rookie seasons contributing on special teams. According to Williams, Hager is “head and shoulders” above where he was in 2015 with an offseason under his belt.

Los Angeles made Josh Forrest its only defensive draft pick this year, selecting him in the sixth round at No. 190 overall. While the Kentucky product is raw — he shifted from wide receiver to safety to linebacker during his college years — general manager Les Snead raved about Forrest’s physicality and tenacity. He’ll have to contribute on special teams to make an impact as a rookie.

Forrest will have competition in doing so at linebacker from the four undrafted free agents the Rams currently have at the position. Brandon Chubb (Wake Forrest), Nic Grigsby (Pittsburgh), Darreon Herring (Vanderbilt) and Cory Littleton (Washington) will all compete for a spot on the 53-man roster. If they are to make it, it will likely come through their special teams skills — much like Lynch last year.

QUESTIONS OF THE DAY

This is an interesting question in large part because of the way it’s phrased. There’s no one right or wrong way to think about leadership, but my impression of the Rams is leadership can come from anywhere. Specifically on defense, Williams often says he thinks of it as a group effort rather than individuals.

That said, middle linebacker is a position that naturally fosters leadership because he is are the signal-caller for the unit. As a MLB, you must know what everyone else on the field is doing. Because of that, Ogletree is going to interact with every position group to ensure they’re on the same page.

By all accounts, Ogletree has done a nice job with that. That’s clearly to be expected in the offseason when there’s no true opponent on the field. But I also don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the praise Ogletree’s teammates heaped on him during OTAs.

So to answer the question, I’d say Ogletree not necessarily because of his time on the team, but because of the inherent leadership role that comes with his position.

This is a good question given the tackle numbers Barron put up last year and Ogletree has put up since he arrived on the team in 2013. I think because both have the ability to go sideline to sideline, they’re both going to put up some gaudy tackle numbers. But because of their positions, I’d give an edge to Barron.

With Barron at weakside linebacker, he’s often the one who can go around blockers on the backside of formations in order to make tackles on run plays. Essentially, if the rest of the defenders around Barron do their jobs properly, he then has the ability to run up and make a tackle. And the nice thing about Barron — and Ogletree, too, really — is once he gets there, he doesn’t often miss.

Thanks for your questions, Brently and Jeff. We’ll be back tomorrow to discuss Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Pharoh Cooper, and all of the Rams wide receivers in the third installment of Countdown to Camp. You can submit your questions either on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.

PREVIOUSLY ON COUNTDOWN TO CAMP

July 20 - Special Teams

The Rams are holding training camp at UC Irvine — and we hope to see you there. The first session is July 30 at 3:30 p.m. For details, visit our training camp page here.