Ogletree to Take Over at Middle Linebacker

Posted Feb 24, 2016

Following the release of James Laurinaitis, head coach Jeff Fisher named LB Alec Ogletree L.A.'s middle linebacker going forward.

INDIANAPOLIS -- There’s plenty of change to go around this offseason for the Rams, obviously beginning with the team’s return to Los Angeles. But when it comes to on-field moves, the team made waves by releasing three of its veteran players last week: defensive end Chris Long, tight end Jared Cook, and linebacker James Laurinaitis.

As head coach Jeff Fisher put it Wednesday afternoon, letting go of veterans can be a tough but necessary process for the growth of a football team.

“It’s not easy,” Fisher said at his NFL Combine press conference. “It’s part of the process for planning for the future. In particular, Chris and James were basically the faces of our franchise for years in St. Louis. And I have total respect for their commitment, not only on the field, but off the field -- what they did in the community.”

But when it comes to performance, the primary question that comes up in moving on from Laurinaitis is, who replaces him? That’s a significant task, given Laurinaitis’ durability and his all-time leading franchise mark of 1,015 tackles.

After Wednesday, there’s no more need for speculation, as Fisher named Alec Ogletree Los Angeles’ middle linebacker going forward.

“Yes, Alec’s going to be our Mike,” Fisher said. “I’ve had the conversation with him since the difficult time in releasing James, and Alec is really excited about moving inside.”

“As I told James, that was the reason for the decision,” Fisher added.

Ogletree played in only four games in 2015 due to a season-ending, lower-leg fracture suffered against Arizona on Oct. 4. But the Georgia product was one of the most productive defensive players in the league at weakside linebacker, racking up 55 total tackles and 2.0 sacks in that time.

“I think Alec, where he was playing before he got hurt in Arizona -- it’s hard to find someone playing inside behind the ball who was more productive,” Fisher said.

Though the Rams certainly missed Ogletree through the rest of the season, the injury did provide an opportunity for Mark Barron to emerge in that weakside spot on the defense. Acquired in a trade from the Buccaneers midway through 2014, Barron ended 2015 with a team-leading 135 total tackles. He also forced four fumbles, recorded eight quarterback hits, and had five passes defensed.

Fisher gave credit to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for his creativity in scheming ways for Barron to become so productive.

“Early on in the season -- unfortunately when we lost Alec -- Mark’s reps increased and I thought he had a really good year,” Fisher said. “So, as you see, there’s a trend in the league right now for that type of guy. And we feel like he really fits into our defense. So he’s obviously a priority from the standpoint of getting him re-signed.”

“You need the quickness,” Fisher said of Barron’s skill set. “You need the ability to play sideline-to-sideline and push down the field, and matchup. And you need matchups on the running backs. Those kinds of players, that type of athlete kind of gives you that chance.”

Fisher said ideally, Barron will be next to Ogletree when next season begins in September. And as for the new middle linebacker, the head coach said Ogletree will be able to fill the leadership role the position requires.

“Alec’s going to get people lined up. He’s going to call plays. He’s a really smart player,” Fisher said. “I’m confident Alec can do it.”