The St. Louis Rams general manager, shortly after he saw his second pick in the 2013 NFL Draft get beat for a touchdown in his first NFL preseason game, issued a warning to linebacker Alec Ogletree.
“They’re not scared of you,” Snead said to a booth of TV broadcasters in Cleveland, but really to Ogletree. “You’re not in Georgia anymore. They’re going to throw it at you.”
They will continue to throw (and run) it at him come Sunday. And for the first time, it will count when they win.
Everyone says Ogletree is ready to be a first-year starter in the NFL. If a Rams defense that has already sustained a serious blow at the linebacker position is to succeed, Snead’s warning must be heeded. Ogletree must deliver, immediately.
“Alec has improved each week,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher says. “We saw steady improvement from preseason Game 1 all the way through the fourth one. We saw the highlights in Week 3, the things he is capable of doing.”
The lowest point of Ogletree’s preseason came early, when he missed some of the head-rattling tackles he passed out so generously in Georgia and looked like a lost child at the supermarket in pass coverage — a supposed strength of the former safety.
Then came the third preseason game against the Broncos, where Ogletree stripped a ball and ran it back for a touchdown, intercepted another and broke up a would-be completion in the red zone.
“He’s a football player,” Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan says. “You saw it in the Denver game. On a big stage, he showed up.”
For Ogletree, the key will be consistency.
“Just adjusting to the tempo, the amount of preparation you have to do,” he says. “Just trying to play fast each and every play. That was probably the biggest thing.”
That, and learning the Rams’ scheme.
“Given that it was a new scheme for me, it definitely took me a little bit more time than some of the other guys to pick up on it,” he says. “But I work hard each and every day to get the scheme, and I feel good about it.”
It takes time, something Ogletree won’t have the pleasure of accumulating out of the spotlight. The player who appeared to be the rookie’s backup, veteran free agent Will Witherspoon, was actually signed to replace Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a starter who was released after he violated the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy.
Now there are fewer options to save Ogletree if he struggles. He will be on the field, and his flaws will be visible until they disappear. The best survive and eventually thrive. Just ask James Laurinaitis.
“You almost laugh at the way you played early on,” the veteran linebacker says. “You wonder why sometimes Coach stuck with you, because you made so many young mistakes. He’s going to have some rookie mistakes, but the thing about the NFL is you have to be able to learn from them.”
It’s here where Laurinaitis makes an important point. Many watching Ogletree this season saw the bad start and the better finish. Laurinaitis saw past that. He recognized a player building on the few glimpses of NFL experience he has to work with.
“They always say, ‘Don’t be a repeat offender with those mistakes,'” Lauriniatis says. “Alec has shown that so far in the preseason. Nothing makes be believe he won’t continue to do that throughout the year.”
The faster he can do it, the better.
“He can’t play like a rookie,” Finnegan says. “He’s got to go in there and play good ball like he did in Denver. Let that carry over, and we will be all right.”
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.