Rams have Laurinaitis' replacement: Alec Ogletree moving to middle

INDIANAPOLIS -- Los Angeles Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree is moving. And not just with his team to southern California.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher confirmed Wednesday that, as expected, Ogletree is the team's new middle linebacker, a job he inherits from recently-released James Laurinaitis.

"Yes, Alec is going to be our MIC," Fisher said. "Alec, where he was playing before he got hurt at Arizona, I think he was playing, it’s hard to find someone playing behind the ball who was more productive."

When Fisher informed Laurinaitis of his release last Friday, his primary reason for making the move was that he planned to move Ogletree to the middle with the hopes of re-signing Mark Barron to step into Ogletree's vacated spot as the weakside linebacker.

Soon after meeting with Laurinaitis, Fisher discussed the move with Ogletree.

"He's excited," Fisher said. "I’ve had the conversation with him since the difficult time in releasing James and Alec is really excited about moving inside. So he’s been in the building every day and he’s wearing coach [Gregg] Williams out right now."

That's a relationship that only figures to grow closer over the next several months. While Ogletree brings a more athletic, playmaking presence to the position, he has a long way to go to build the acumen to make all the calls and checks necessary to quarterback the defense as Laurinaitis did. In fact, Ogletree has repeatedly pointed to Laurinaitis' influence as a big reason for his development over his first three seasons.

Without Laurinaitis to help guide him, the onus falls on Ogletree to take on that more advanced role, a job that necessitates a lot of quick decisions and study. While Ogletree isn't new to middle linebacker, having played it some at Georgia, Williams brings a much more complex defense with a lot to know from down to down.

"I’m confident that Alec can do it," Fisher said. "Alec is going to get people lined up. He’s going to call the plays. He’s a really smart player. So the question is, as I told James, that was the reason for the decision and our challenge now is be it Mark Barron or whoever else is going to get behind the ball next to Alec, I’m hoping it’s Mark and those few snaps a game when you’ve got to play with three behind the ball, we’ll figure out who that last one is."

Of course, the mental side of things won't be the only adjustment for Ogletree. While some question whether he has the size to play inside, it's worth noting that he's only listed as 3 pounds lighter than Laurinaitis. So it's not really a matter of his size so much as it is his ability and willingness to take on blockers and shed them when things get congested inside.

Regardless, the Rams view Ogletree as a key piece of the defense moving forward and are all but certain to exercise his fifth-year option for 2017 this summer if they can't strike a long-term deal with him first. Those contract conversations are already taking place.

As for Barron, the Rams remain confident they can get him back in free agency and have made him one of their top priorities.

"We really liked Mark coming out, draft-wise," Fisher said. "And we were surprised to some extent that he was available and so we took advantage of it. So we just kind of plugged him in and Gregg is good at moving people around and creating opportunities and then early on in the season unfortunately we lost Alec and Mark's reps increased and I thought he had a really good year. If you see there's a trend in the league for that kind of guy. And we feel he really fits in our defense, so he's a priority from the standpoint of getting him re-signed."