ST. LOUIS — Alec Ogletree ended fellow linebacker James Laurinaitis’ four-year run as the St. Louis Rams’ leading tackler in his rookie season.
As with the rest of the defense, there’s no resting on that accomplishment.
Everybody is getting pushed and prodded to do more by new coordinator Gregg Williams. No doubt, many of them are hearing that distinctive barking from the sideline in their sleep.
"A guy like him, he’s basically the leader of our defense — the vocal leader anyway," Ogletree said. "He comes in and demands respect, and everybody respects him.
"You want to play for a guy like that."
The preseason opener against New Orleans could mean more than a typical exhibition for Williams, who served a one-year suspension for his involvement in the Saints’ bounty scandal.
Saints coach Sean Payton has downplayed the angle and repeatedly assessed it as "not a big topic."
"It is not even a big deal at all," Payton said. "What’s important is just getting our guys ready to know what they’re doing, putting their best foot forward and playing well."
Though Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the game plan will be basic, it’s highly unlikely Payton will subject quarterback Drew Brees to Williams’ aggressive tactics — even in the preseason.
Brees is nursing a left oblique injury and has been limited to light throwing on the side since last Friday.
Plus, his wife is due to give birth to a daughter in the middle of the month.
Tight end Jimmy Graham said blitz pickup has been an emphasis this week with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who nearly took a position with the Rams a few years ago. Graham remembers playing the 49ers in the preseason opener in 2011, Williams’ final season with New Orleans, and "it was like zero blitz like four times out of nine."
The Saints had six sacks, two on starter Alex Smith and four on Colin Kaepernick, and 10 quarterback hits in that game. One sack was by a blitzing safety and two more came from linebackers.
"So, it’s going to be great work for the quarterback, for the O-line, for the tight ends, I mean, for everybody across the board," Graham said. "That’s who he is and he brings it, so you know we’re going to have to be ready for that."
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford will be held out, too, though several times he’s pronounced himself all the way back from knee surgery that sidelined him the final nine games last season.
Fisher said Bradford will get a lot of work in the preseason. Just not this game.
"It’s not because he can’t, it’s because it’s our choice," Fisher said. "As I have said before, I’m really pleased with where he is and what he’s doing."
Look for Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown to get most of the snaps for New Orleans, and for the Rams to give extended looks to Shaun Hill and rookie Garrett Gilbert.
Ogletree said the defense isn’t a lot more complicated under Williams, reunited with Fisher for a second time. But there are a lot more packages and schemes in the playbook to keep everyone on their toes.
"For the most part I think I have a handle on it, but I still can learn some stuff," Ogletree said. "Once you say you’ve got it, you probably don’t have it."
The Rams held a fan fest/scrimmage at the Edward Jones Dome on Saturday in part to get newcomers on the field before the games. They’ll get their first good look at a rookie class led by first-rounders Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald.
Robinson, the second overall pick, will begin his NFL career at guard after starring at left tackle for Auburn’s national runners-up. He’s been getting snaps at both positions in case Jake Long isn’t back from offseason knee surgery in time for the opener.
Long has been increasingly involved in practice but similar to Bradford, his rehab partner during the winter, will be held out.
Donald has impressed at tackle with his hands and feet in camp and adds to one of the league’s top pass rushes.
Besides Brees, the Saints likely will be without starting guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs — both with undisclosed injuries. Evans left practice earlier this week and Grubbs has been sidelined more than a week.
Cornerback Champ Bailey and free safety Jairus Byrd, who attended high school in St. Louis while his father was an assistant coach with the Rams, also probably will sit this one out. Byrd is practicing, but not in contact drills rehabbing from back surgery and Bailey has an undisclosed minor injury.