EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have no shortage of young players they're hoping will continue to mature over the season's final three weeks. But one of their prized youngsters doesn't need to make a major leap in the final three so much as he needs to stay on his current positive trajectory.
Linebacker Alec Ogletree was the Rams' "other" first-round pick back in April but, as he closes in on wrapping up his first year, he's been the team's most consistent rookie and he's made steady gains throughout the season.
“Each week he does something that surprises you," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "You say, 'Wow' on a positive side. He’s tackled very well, got off blocks, ran much better this week in his pass coverage and things than he was last week. He’s making a lot of plays for us.”
Through 13 games, one could argue that aside from defensive end Robert Quinn, Ogletree has made the most plays for the Rams' defense. He's tied with middle linebacker James Laurinaitis for the most tackles on the team with 95, has an interception return for a touchdown, a sack and four forced fumbles. According to Rams' coaches review, Ogletree has a one-tackle edge on Laurinaitis at 121-120.
If Ogletree can tally more tackles than Laurinaitis in the final three contests against New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Seattle, he'll break up Laurinaitis' streak of four consecutive seasons leading the team in that category.
Ogletree isn't keeping the tally in his head, but he's not making any bones about his desire to break Laurinaitis' team record for tackles by a rookie.
"I am trying to break his record he set," Ogletree said. "I can definitely say that."
Coming into the NFL out of Georgia, Ogletree spent time in Athens playing safety before moving to linebacker late in his college career. That set him a little ahead of the curve in terms of pass coverage but with plenty to learn about defending the run.
Ogletree's pass coverage has been mostly solid throughout the season, but his struggles getting off blocks have been evident in games where the Rams have been gashed by the run such as Dallas, the first game against San Francisco and Tennessee.
It's an area Ogletree knew he'd need to improve upon arriving in the NFL.
"It definitely was something I wanted to work on coming into this year and I’ll continue to work on it and get better," Ogletree said. "I want to be even better next year."
The film shows Ogletree using his hands to shed blockers a little better in recent weeks, but what's more evident is improved instincts and read and react skills. His athleticism has never been in doubt and when he sees plays develop right away, he has the speed to get there. It's clear from watching him that having some games under his belt has allowed him to react to things quicker than when he first arrived in the league.
As for the continued need to improve hand usage, Ogletree said he spends extra time at practice hitting the shield and trying to hone his craft in that area. He's also more comfortable in the scheme.
"I definitely have just been trying to work at using my hands a lot more from college to now," Ogletree said. "It has paid off a lot."
Make no mistake, Ogletree still has plenty to learn to reach his vast potential but with three games to go, he appears headed in the right direction.