Improved Ogletree + Williams’ scheme = tougher Rams D
ST. LOUIS — Alec Ogletree was having fun Tuesday, despite the sauna-like conditions for the Rams’ organized team activity at Rams Park.
The Rams’ young outside linebacker appeared to be in midseason form, turning the workout into another entry in his personal highlight film with two nifty interceptions, his first two picks of the team’s eight OTA sessions.
"It was fun," Ogletree said.
Well, not for the Rams’ quarterbacks.
And if the 22-year-old’s play during OTAs is any indication, it won’t be much fun at all for Rams opponents next season when facing a more aggressive defense under the direction of new coordinator Gregg Williams and featuring several youngsters on the rise.
The University of Georgia product was the Rams’ rookie of the year in 2013, when he started all 16 games, led the team in tackles with 119 and forced six fumbles, which would have led the team if not for Robert Quinn’s breakthrough season.
Ogletree also showed big-play ability when he returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown in Houston against the Texans.
But here’s the kicker: Ogletree admitted Tuesday that he wasn’t always comfortable on the field, where the first-round pick was penciled in as a starter from Day One.
Now, it’s like night and day, the linebacker said.
"When I first started last year I was kind of nervous just trying to learn the position and learn what I needed to do on the play," Ogletree said. "This year I feel more comfortable. I feel like I’m able to go out there and just play and have fun."
That’s a scary thought for everyone on the Rams’ schedule in 2014.
So is this:
"I think Tree is going to get better, despite the fact that he had a really good rookie year," Rams coach Jeff Fisher told FOXSportsMidwest.com.
Somehow, Ogletree didn’t garner much recognition nationally for his outstanding rookie season — perhaps because the Rams went 7-9 and finished last among the four teams in the loaded NFC West.
"I think I had a pretty good rookie year," Ogletree said. "I’m just looking to get better this year. I had a lot of growth last year with being able to be out there early and get a lot of experience under my belt. Toward the end of the season I became a lot more comfortable."
Ogletree wasn’t among the top five in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, which defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson of New York Jets edged out Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso to win.
But with Ogletree’s skill set — the 6-foot-2, 245-pound converted safety is fast and aggressive when attacking ball carriers and has a knack for the big play — it won’t be long before the rest of the NFL is aware of him. Throw in Williams’ X’s and O’s and Ogletree and his defensive teammates are eager to show what they are capable of in the new scheme.
"I think guys are ready for it," Ogletree said. "That’s what we’ve been wanting to do. We’ve got a lot of athleticism. We’ve got a lot of speed on our team. Everybody on our team can pretty much run. With Gregg being so aggressive, we’re able to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback."
Ogletree took about a month off after the season, then jumped into his offseason training program. He’s spent most of his offseason in St. Louis working to get better.
He has seen some of that work pay off during the team’s OTA sessions this month. "Just being more consistent in my preparation and out on the field getting lined up correctly and just communicating with all the guys so everybody’s on the same page," Ogletree said.
Like his teammates making the leap from Year 1 to Year 2, running back Zac Stacy and wide receiver Tavon Austin, Ogletree can see the game slowing down on the field for them.
"You can tell a big difference from last year to this year," he said. "Just in OTAs guys are flying around just having fun. They’re a lot more comfortable. Guys are communicating a lot more and just know what to do. It definitely makes a big difference."