ST. LOUIS — Scary. That might be the best word to describe what linebacker Alec Ogletree is expected to accomplish in his second season with the Rams.
After all, Ogletree led the team in tackles with 155 in 2013, 124 of which were solo. There was the 98-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Texans on Oct. 13 that was the longest return by a rookie in league history and tied the NFL mark for longest return by a linebacker. The 30th overall choice also contributed seven passes defensed and six forced fumbles.
What’s scary is that Ogletree was finding his way around the NFL as a rookie. Now there is a comfort level, even given the task of figuring out what new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wants.
"We expect more production out of him," coach Jeff Fisher says. "He made the big plays (last season) and he’s got that big-play potential. He’s moving around a little bit in the defense and coach Williams is doing a nice job with that. We’ll create some matchups, might be doing a little bit more pressure than he’s done before, but from a cover standpoint he can do it. He’s been working on it, so we’re pleased with where he is right now."
It has often been said that players make their biggest improvement from year one to year two in the NFL. The rookie experience follows an offseason where players spend time preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine and pro days rather than preparing to play football. Then, a lot is thrown at them once the draft is over.
"The NFL is a new world," Fisher says. "The competition is significantly better and there’s a lot going on. As soon as their rookie season is over, it’s deep-breath time and it’s almost as if ‘Did that just happen?’
"But then they have a few months to digest what happened and then get prepared for the next season. They come in as a completely different person."
"Definitely, from the first preseason game to the last game of the season, it was a tremendous 180. I felt like a whole different person toward the end of the season," he says. "At the beginning, I was thinking a lot, making sure I was doing the right thing. Toward the end of the season I knew what I had to do, where I was supposed to be, and I was able to fly around and make plays."
Fisher says it’s all about "a sense that I’ve done it before. Now when things come up there’s recognition, so now you can do it again, but you can do it better. That’s what we’re expecting from him. It’s understanding what we’re doing and more important, understanding what the opponent is doing, and putting him in position to make plays.
"On that interception, he recognized what was coming, deviated a little bit from what we were doing and made the big play. We should expect to get more of those kind of plays out of him."
Ogletree expects it from himself. He says he worked on his craft in the offseason, especially his drops, "so I can be more consistent this year."
Playing for Williams has him stoked. "I’m very excited having him as our coordinator," Ogletree says. "You never know where you might be. He has you all over the field, trying to put you in position to make plays. With the type of talent we have, I think he fits in real well with us."
Most important, Ogletree is freed up to run to the ball because of the quality of players in front of him on the defensive line.
"Absolutely," he says with a smile. "They keep me clean so I can make plays."
Yes, that is scary.
Howard Balzer can be heard daily on H & Friends from 9-11 a.m. on FoxSportsRadio 1490.