EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After a pair of rough outings in his first two preseason games, Rams rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree flashed the impact play potential that has left coach Jeff Fisher comparing him to the likes of Keith Bulluck and Patrick Willis.
Lofty comparisons, to be sure, but Ogletree’s preseason hasn’t been much different from many rookies around the league which is to say it has had plenty of ups and downs.
By the time Ogletree was through with his second quarter tour de force in Denver, he posted six tackles, an interception, two passes defended, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown.
“That was definitely my motto, to come in, be around the ball and just make plays,” Ogletree said. “Tonight, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of good plays and (I’m) just trying to get better each week.”
The game in Denver was the first of the trio of preseason contests in which Ogletree showed the marked improvement he has sought.
Throughout camp and the exhibition schedule, the Rams have wasted no time getting Ogletree involved as they attempt to get him up to speed. In the second preseason game against Green Bay, he stayed in longer than the rest of the defensive starters, playing the entire first half.
In the three exhibition games, Ogletree has played more snaps than any Rams defender with 121. Every one of those has been valuable for Ogletree who by his own admission has struggled with picking up assignments, missed tackles and generally translating what he learns in the classroom to the field.
Those types of mistakes are common amongst rookies transitioning to the league.
“I just keep trying to hone in on my assignments and keep being disciplined in my drops and tackling and all that stuff,” Ogletree said. “I’m doing all I can to learn it and get better each week.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Ogletree has 13 tackles and a quarterback hurry to go with the interception, fumble recovery and forced fumble. In their metrics, Ogletree has been a positive in coverage and a negative in run defense.
That Ogletree has picked things up in coverage faster than defending the run should come as no surprise given his previous experience at safety. His task this season will be improving his ability to get off blocks and fill holes in the run game.
Ogletree isn’t so different from many players who get by on athleticism up to a certain point, but when the playing field levels, they need to refine technique to be a complete player.
To that end, middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has made it a point to work with Ogletree on some of the finer points of using his hands to take on and separate from blockers.
“It’s just about doing the little things every single time,” Laurinaitis said. “In the NFL it doesn’t matter if you are going against the 3s, if you align that way and get blocked you make it harder on yourself. He’s doing better. He has got to continue to work on shock and shed and stuff like that, using his hands at the point of attack.”
In the rough and tumble NFC West, playing downhill and being able to, as Laurinaitis calls it, thump on a regular basis is a prerequisite.
Seattle led the league in rushing attempts in 2012 and San Francisco finished seventh as they finished third and fourth, respectively, in rushing yards.
Expected to be a three-down linebacker alongside Laurinaitis, Ogletree is just scratching the surface on what the Rams hope he can be.
“Alec is getting better,” Laurinaitis said. “He’s quiet, he’s humble, he works hard. His talent is definitely there. You can see it. He’s learning but he’s doing a good job but I expect him to get better incrementally.”