Ogletree Ready for Fresh Start

Posted May 8, 2013

As he went through the process of a pre-draft visit to St. Louis last month, linebacker Alec Ogletree found himself in the same position as nearly every prospect that takes such a trip.

Sitting in a meeting room with linebackers coach Frank Bush, Ogletree was shown a variety of packages and plays, asked to remember what he saw and then asked what his responsibility would be on a given play.

As Bush drew up something the Rams see quite often from the schemes of divisional opponents such as Seattle and San Francisco, he turned to Ogletree and asked what he was supposed to do on the play.

Ogletree threw away any schematic mumbo jumbo and eschewed any technical terms, according to Rams general manager Les Snead.

“Basically Ogletree drew a line and said, ‘I go right there and make the tackle right at the line of scrimmage,’” Snead said. “He didn’t get into this or that, he just said, ‘I’m going to meet that guy right there.’ I think Frank was sold at that moment.”

Bush wasn’t the only one that was sold on the ultra-athletic linebacker following his visit. As the draft approached, Ogletree emerged as one of the organization’s top players, a player Snead and coach Jeff Fisher said would certainly have been a top 10 or 15 pick were it not for some concerns off the field.

But in terms of on-field ability, Ogletree’s combination of size (6’2, 242 pounds), speed (4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash), strength (20 reps on the 225-pound bench press) and athleticism made him nearly impossible to ignore.

In fact, whenever Fisher turned on the tape to watch Ogletree, he couldn’t help but see a potential clone one of his favorite defensive stalwarts in his time in Tennessee, linebacker Keith Bulluck.

“There are a lot of similarities when you watch him on tape,” Fisher said. “A lot of similarities, yes. Long arms, quickness, slippery, can take on, can tackle sideline-to-sideline. Very explosive player. That’s a by-product of his safety background.”

Ogletree’s immense potential would have been enough for the Rams to consider drafting him with the first of their two first-round picks at No. 16 but after moving up for West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin at No. 8, they opted to roll the dice a bit in an effort to recoup some of those picks by moving down from No. 22, their second first-round selection.

The move down to No. 30 in a trade with Atlanta was a calculated risk but one that paid off as Ogletree sat waiting for the Rams when they came back on the clock. This time, they wasted no time turning in the card and adding the newest piece of weaponry to an already dangerous defensive unit.

“We had Alec way up there,” Fisher said. “He’s a very, very good player. We had him in for a 30 visit, talked to him at the combine, spent time with him, and convinced that he’s looking forward to the future and understands how to do things right and knows that this is a great opportunity for him. He’s a very, very talented player.”

For evidence of that, one need only to look at what Ogletree accomplished in his third and final season at Georgia.

After starting his collegiate career as a safety, starting five games there in 2010, Ogletree was switched to weakside linebacker in time for the 2011 season. He started eight games at his new position and looked fairly comfortable in posting 52 tackles, three sacks, six quarterback pressures and three forced fumbles.

With a year at linebacker under his belt, Ogletree appeared poised for a big junior season. But it was derailed before it began by a suspension that kept him out of the first four games of last season.

Despite that, Ogletree returned to the mix and became a tackling machine, leading the Bulldogs with 111 tackles and adding 11.5 tackles for loss, an interception, three sacks and nine quarterback pressures in just 10 games.

That performance paved the way for Ogletree to declare for early entry into this year’s draft. He was projected to go fairly high in the draft but ran into more off the field issues before February’s scouting combine.

Suddenly, Ogletree’s stock was in doubt. He found himself answering questions from media and teams alike about his mistakes and how he would make up for those. Ogletree said he admitted his mistakes to teams but emphasized that he’d learned from them and was focused on moving forward.

Ogletree’s explanation satisfied Fisher.

“You know people are going to make mistakes and I think that this was a maturity issue,” Fisher said. “He understands. He learned very well, very quickly here tonight what kind of effect those choices have, but we don’t have a concern. We felt, because of some of the issues, that he had a chance to fall. Didn’t think he’d go that far, but were in the right place at the right time.”

As most of the first round went by and his name went uncalled, Ogletree, his parents Al and Allison sat at agent Pat Dye Jr.’s house and waited, somewhat impatiently.

“He kept touching my head saying ‘Mom, calm down. It’s going to be OK no matter where I go,’” Allison Ogletree said. “So he was a calming force to me. I thought I was prepared for it and we were kind of prepped to know it was a long process and everything but it was a matter of just knowing that it was going to be meant for him to just get that opportunity at some point.”

When the call finally came from Fisher, the house broke out into raucous cheers as Ogletree could barely hear his new head coach on the other end of the line. What he did know was he was headed to St. Louis and he’d achieved a long coming dream.

“It’s been a dream since I was little,” Ogletree said. “My mom can tell you that when I was very little, I told them that when I grew up I wanted to be in the NFL. To get the opportunity to do that, it’s a blessing and I’m just thankful.”

As Ogletree and his rookie teammates arrive in St. Louis for this weekend’s rookie minicamp, the dream will now become reality and the reality is that he’s embarking on a new job that will demand much more than anything he did at the collegiate level.

It’s likely that Ogletree will get his first look as the strong side linebacker opposite Jo-Lonn Dunbar when he mixes in with the veterans. In the NFC West Division, Ogletree’s speed and ability to chase from sideline to sideline could well have him on the field a lot as a rookie.

With the likes of San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Carolina’s Cam Newton on the schedule this year, that’s a job Ogletree knows will fall to him right away.

“I’m definitely up for the challenge,” Ogletree said. “I’m very comfortable in my ability to tackle someone and run them down. I feel like when we’re in between the lines, no one’s faster than me. I feel like everyone’s the same speed, and maybe I’ll even be faster. I definitely look forward to the challenge of facing two of the great quarterbacks in the league this year.”

Upon arrival in St. Louis, none of what’s happened in Ogletree’s past will be of any importance anymore. It’s a new job and a fresh start and one that his father believes his son is ready to take on.

“It does give you a reality check that even though your kid might be doing great and all of a sudden he may fall off, he can pick himself up,” Al Ogletree said. “He has a good support system with me and his mom and his sister and brother and friends and family. Hopefully he has grown a lot more. Now he’s 21 and he realizes this is a job and an adventure at the same time so I think he is going to do well and I am happy for him.”