There is no question that middle linebacker Alec Ogletree plays a big role on the Rams defense. Not only is he a team captain, but he also fills the role of defensive signal-caller — tasked with setting the defensive front, deciphering the opponent's play call, and making pre-snap adjustments.
But for the majority of Sunday's contest against the Cardinals, it was not Ogletree acting as the quarterback of the defense. Instead, his primary backup Bryce Hager was asked to step up and fill in.
"[For] Bryce to come in and fill in for a great player like Alec — kind of our leader, our captain on defense — I thought he did a very nice job," head coach Sean McVay said. "He got the calls and got the communication handled the right way. Very pleased for Bryce."
After playing just 23 defensive snaps, Ogletree exited the contest early in the second quarter with an elbow
injury. Hager — a Rams seventh-round draft pick out of Baylor in 2015 — took over with seven minutes remaining in the first half.
And although the Los Angeles defense had some issues against Arizona's ground game in the second period, a series of second-half adjustments helped limit the Cardinals to just 18 rushing yards in the second half.
"We just had to make a little adjustment up front," Hager said. "Once we executed that, I don't think they were able to run the ball as efficiently. [And] coming into a hostile environment like Arizona, you have to play your best through all 60 minutes, and I think we got it done."
Hager finished the contest with one tackle, one quarterback hit, and one pass defense. He said filling in at practice helped him tremendously when his number was called upon in the actual game.
"You kind of prepare every week like you are going to play," Hager said. "You do that in practice and that translates to the game... I've been backing up for a while now so just getting the opportunity to play like that, you have to prepare."
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"Bryce comes in at practice for Tree all the time and it's always a next-man-up philosophy for us," nose tackle Michael Brockers said. "So, that's why we practice our guys that are behind and we critique them really hard because when your No. 1 goes down, we need you to step up with no let off and that's what we did."
Though McVay said the Rams are expecting Ogletree to be ready for Sunday, Hager will still continue to prepare as if he were the starter.