Every time the Rams’ talented rookie outside linebacker takes the field, whether it’s the practice field in Earth City or NFL stadiums on Sundays, he gets a little more comfortable and a little bit better.
It has all been a learning experience for the first-round pick from Georgia. There’s no doubt about that. But Ogletree has shown flashes of potential that he could be one of the best young linebackers in the league before long, if he’s not already.
“It’s been good,” he says. “Coming in in the summer and learning from a lot of the older guys, James (Laurinaitis), Jo-Lonn (Dunbar), Will (Witherspoon), they took me under their wing and helped me learn some stuff that I might not have known. Just over the course of the season I think I’ve just gotten a little bit better each day.”
Yeah, Ogletree says, he can feel his improvement from week to week.
“I definitely can,” he says. “I feel like I can play that much faster each week. I’ve been working ever since I came in, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Ogletree’s potential was on display Sunday when he was flying all over the field in the Rams’ 42-21 win over the visiting Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome.
He chased down Michael Bush on a second-quarter screen pass and kept Bush out of the end zone. In the third quarter he tackled quarterback Josh McCown short of the goal line on a third-down scramble, which then led to a fourth-down stop by Dunbar to prevent a touchdown. In the fourth quarter he stopped Bush and Matt Forte short of the goal line in a span of three plays.
“He’s just getting smarter,” Dunbar says. “He’s getting smarter as he plays. He’s growing up. He’s understanding football better. He’s made some plays. He made that play on the screen. He made that play on the quarterback. Those were huge plays that we needed in red-zone situations. Just to see him understand the game a little bit and be able to make some plays is great.”
When the dust settled and the Rams emerged with their second consecutive victory, Ogletree was credited with a team-high 11 tackles, according to press box statistics.
After the coaches’ film review, he was credited with a career-high 15.
“He’s an athletic linebacker,” Rams defensive end Robert Quinn says. “He can run sideline to sideline, make plays out in space. He’s young, of course, so he’s going to grow from week to week. He’s making plays. He’s growing up. He can only get better from here, so I’m excited to see his improvement as the season goes on and as he gets more years under his belt.”
The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder, who was converted from safety to linebacker at Georgia, certainly passes the eye test. If you watch the Rams’ defense on Sundays, you’ll regularly see No. 52 running toward the ball.
“That’s what coach wants us to do, run to the ball,” Ogletree says. “Anytime I see a ball in the air or they run the ball, you know you want all 11 guys at the ball. Whenever I see the ball, I’m always trying to run to it.”
The 22-year-old linebacker can add his impressive Week 12 highlights to his already-impressive rookie resume.
Ogletree has started every game and is among the Rams’ leaders in tackles (75), passes defensed (eight), tackles for loss (four) and forced fumbles (three).
And don’t forget his 98-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Houston Texans, the one where he read quarterback T.J. Yates, jumped a flat route and sprinted to the end zone for six points.
Ogletree’s forced fumble and return touchdown against the Broncos during the preseason doesn’t count for his official stats, but it is another of the plays he has made that justified the Rams using the 30th overall pick in the first round to select him.
“They drafted him in the first round, so they expected big things from him,” Quinn says. “All he’s doing is stepping up to the plate. He’s trying to prove himself, not to only us but to the league, that he’ll be a great, young, talented linebacker. The only thing he can do is get better from here.”
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at email@example.com.