EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Before the St. Louis Rams report for training camp next week, we're taking a look at five players returning to the team who will need to provide more if the team is going to be a playoff contender in 2015.
Next up is linebacker Alec Ogletree.
Why more is needed: Ogletree has had moments of brilliance, occasionally looking like a perennial Pro Bowler waiting to happen. He's also had moments where he's looked lost, leading to big plays for the opposition. That inconsistency isn't exclusive to Ogletree, as the Rams defense has had that knack for the duration of Jeff Fisher's tenure in St. Louis. So it's not so much that more is needed from Ogletree as he needs to find a way to replicate how he played over the final half of last season. Before things began to click for him in coordinator Gregg Williams' defense, Ogletree was even benched briefly against Kansas City. But Williams leans on Ogletree to stay on the field all three downs and offer up more than just the occasional splash play. He finished with 111 tackles, two interceptions and four forced fumbles last year, numbers that were solid but down in every category from his rookie season. Most of Ogletree's damage came in the second half of the season when he posted 65 tackles, both interceptions and two forced fumbles over the final eight games. His responsibilities will only increase in the second year under Williams, and the Rams probably would like to see him get home for some sacks this time around though Akeem Ayers figures to handle more of the pass-rushing duties from the linebacker spot. Like Tavon Austin, Ogletree is a 2013 first-round pick who will also be eligible to have his fifth-year option for 2017 exercised after the season. It seems likely the Rams will choose to do that or even begin negotiating an extension, but it's even more likely one or both of those things will happen if Ogletree is able to consistently produce.
What the Rams need from him: As mentioned above, with Ogletree, it's all about consistency. He found some in the latter half of the year, but this is a team and a defense that must get off to a faster start this year than it has in the past two seasons. A big part of that will be on Ogletree's shoulders. His ability to change games has always been prevalent but he's also had some mistakes that have kept the Rams from getting off to those fast starts. The Rams need Ogletree to be a bit more consistent tackling and his pass coverage also could use some work. According to Pro Football Focus, Ogletree missed 20 tackles and opponents completed 82 percent of their passes when targeting him in 2014. Continued production in tackles and forced turnovers plus improvement in the missed tackles and coverage areas would be positive steps for Ogletree.
Outlook: There's no questioning Ogletree's talent and of the many young players on the Rams roster, he appears to be on a solid upward trajectory that should allow him to find the type of success the Rams believe he can have from week to week. Having Williams' continued guidance should only be a boon to Ogletree's learning curve and his experience in the league and the system should lead to big things. Don't be surprised if Ogletree takes another step forward this year and emerges as one of the team's best defenders.