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Ogletree Primed for Success at Middle Linebacker

Posted Jun 10, 2016

Through two weeks of OTAs, linebacker Alec Ogletree has received high marks from his coaches and teammates for his work at middle linebacker.

Heading into Week 4 of the 2015 season, linebacker Alec Ogletree appeared poised for his first Pro Bowl. He had already racked up 44 tackles and a pair of sacks. His 18 tackles against Washington in Week 2 were the most for a Rams linebacker in a single game since 2001.

And then came the Rams’ fourth contest in Arizona — a game best known as running back Todd Gurley’s coming out party, as he rushed for 146 yards in the team’s 24-22 victory. But that game was also the final appearance for Ogletree last year, as he suffered a lower-leg fracture in the second half of the contest.

Now Ogletree is healthy and embracing a new role as the leader of the defense, as the Rams decided to shift Ogletree from weakside to middle linebacker for the 2016 season. The transition is a challenge, but it’s one Ogletree has wholly embraced.

“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable from Day 1 to today,” Ogletree said last week. “It’s just about getting better. And I think with everybody being here for a while and the D-line, the DBs, everybody’s coming out here and getting after it — it’s definitely helping me fit into the position really well.”

“His commitment that he made — really when the season was over, he was in the building every day,” head coach Jeff Fisher said during OTAs. “So that’s not going to be a problem for him. It’s something that’s much needed on our defense and he’ll handle it.”

Fisher has mentioned a few times how much Ogletree was around the building even before the offseason program began in mid-April in order to get comfortable in his new role. A significant part of what he was doing was film study, and that has continued through OTAs.

“Right now it’s not super intense. But for the most part, I come in the morning and watch film, stay after and watch film,” Ogletree said. “So, I don’t know, I probably spend at least four-to-six hours after in total film.”

But as Ogletree mentioned, the change has been made easier through the familiarity the defense has with coordinator Gregg Williams’ system.

“Pretty much everybody’s been with Gregg for three years now,” Ogletree said. “So for me transitioning to mike, it helped me out a lot not having to go up and teach every single position. I can give a call and I know the D-line knows what they’re doing, I know the DBs know what they’re doing, and you just settle down and just play.”

As is often said, the middle linebacker must be an extension of the defensive coordinator on the field. Given the strength of Ogletree’s relationship with Williams, that won’t be a problem, either.

“Somewhat created a monster in all of our joke telling, and all the things that I do in getting on guys and getting them to spar back and forth,” Williams said Friday. “He’s one of the funnier guys you’ll be around. But then that quick wit also helps him be the coach on the field.”

“We have a defensive system to where we check or audible as much as the offense does. So you’ve got to be really quick with that. He’s done a fantastic job getting us lined up, getting us checked,” Williams continued. “And our players have really done a good job of reinforcing his calls.”

“To play for a guy like that, it’s something special, because all he cares about is winning,” Ogletree said of Williams. “It’s not hard to play for a guy like that when he wants the best for you and all he wants to do is be the best you can be.”

In becoming the Rams’ middle linebacker, Ogletree clearly has some significant shoes to fill. After all, the man he’s replacing, James Laurinaitis, became the all-time franchise leader in tackles last season.

“He was a great, great guy for us playing here. He did great things here,” Ogletree said of Laurinaitis. “And when I came in, he helped me out a lot in just learning how to be a pro — studying, getting in the weight room, getting in the film room, just talking to coaches and the players, too.”

Laurinaitis was also unquestionably the vocal leader of the defense. While that hasn’t necessarily been Ogletree’s style in the past, he recognizes it’s an area in which he’ll have to step up.

“It kind of comes with the position,” Ogletree said. “I’m definitely adjusting to it — just more on the vocal side. I feel like guys respect me and what I do. And I respect [them] the same way.”

Indeed, Ogletree has earned high marks from his teammates when it comes to the linebacker’s new role.

“There’s no drop off,” defensive end Will Hayes said. “He’s definitely hit the playbook a lot harder. And James was a genius. ‘Tree is trying to become that player, and that’s just the reality of it. From a physical standpoint, he’s a freak — and that’s just the reality of it. So from a mental standpoint, he’s becoming that guy. And he always makes the right checks, puts us in the right place, right position. And he’s doing an amazing job right now.”

“I think he’s doing great,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “Everybody knows he’s a playmaker. When he was gone, he was hurt, it definitely hurt us a lot last year. And it’s good to have him back on the field. And I know he’s happy to be back. But he’s doing a great job and I’m confident that he’s going to make things happen anywhere when he’s back there.”

With the experience around him and Ogletree’s commitment to the cause, his shift to the middle is primed for immediate success.

“He’s way ahead of where I thought he would be at this time,” Williams said.

“You still have to work on it. It’s a transition — it’s not going to happen overnight,” Ogletree said. 
“But for right now, I feel pretty good about it.”