By his own admission, St. Louis Rams rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree struggled to gain traction in his first two preseason appearances. Missed tackles, blown assignments and poor reads plagued Ogletree in those first two games, and again Saturday night in the first quarter against Denver.
But when Ogletree stripped Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman, scooped up the fumble and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown, the light seemed to go on.
Ogletree went on to breakup two passes and come up with an interception in the process of showing why Rams coach Jeff Fisher wanted him so much in the first round of April’s NFL draft.
By no means is Ogletree a finished product, and he did have those hiccups in the first quarter, but the Rams have been looking for progress and got plenty of it against the Broncos.
Other observations from the Rams' 27-26 loss:
Before the game, Fisher made it clear he wanted to get a look at rookie Tavon Austin returning punts. He got two glimpses and had to like what he saw. Austin had two returns for 104 yards, including an 81-yarder to set up the team’s first touchdown.
Austin probably should have scored on the return but ran into Ogletree and slowed down a bit. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as the Rams got to work their red-zone offense again. Quarterback Sam Bradford hit tight end Jared Cook for a 3-yard touchdown on the first play.
The first-team offense attempted just five running plays against a loaded run box and didn’t go anywhere with those tries. The Rams have seen loaded run boxes two weeks in a row and have generated almost no running threat to speak of. They’ll need to be better in that regard come the regular season but if the preseason is an indication, teams are going to make the Rams prove they can beat them in the pass game before they back off.
The Rams were the league’s leader in penalties last season, and already look to be in midseason form in that regard. They continue to struggle with pre-snap infractions and racked up 11 penalties for 74 yards against the Broncos.
Both teams played the first half at a breakneck pace, especially the Broncos. Denver ran 49 plays in the opening 30 minutes, picking up 290 yards. Because the Rams forced two turnovers, Denver managed just 10 points. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning attempted 34 passes.
Bradford had his worst outing of the preseason but still looked sharp. He finished 9-of-16 for 110 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a rating of 98.4. Bradford continues to look comfortable in his second year in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense.
Tackling was much improved for the Rams’ first-team defense after a series of whiffs in their two previous preseason outings. There was only one glaring missed tackle from that group. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis was particularly active, posting eight tackles in unofficial press-box statistics.
It was a strong night for the Rams' top unit on special teams as they got Austin’s two punt returns, a blocked field goal from safety T.J. McDonald, a pair of field goals (including a 58-yarder) from Greg Zuerlein and outstanding punting from Johnny Hekker. Noticeable, universal improvement for a group that surrendered a long punt return for a touchdown in the opener against Cleveland.
Undrafted rookie linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong showed up again, coming up with a sack and a pair of tackles in relief work. He’s put together a strong preseason and has positioned himself to make the 53-man roster.
Perhaps most important, the Rams made it out of the game relatively injury-free. Tight end Cory Harkey limped off in the second half and guard Ryan Lee was shaken up, but, at least at first glance, the Rams made it out of another one without any serious injuries of note.