ST. LOUIS — Just like last year, from the beginning of training camp the St. Louis Rams have been preparing two high draft picks to start on defense.
They’re hoping to get similar production from this year’s duo.
“I feel confident I can do it, and it feels good to know they feel the same way,” free safety T.J. McDonald said after practice Tuesday night. “Not every play is perfect, but one thing I can control is my hustle.
“I give my all every play, and if I don’t do everything perfect at least it looks good.”
Outside linebacker Alec Ogletree was the second of the Rams’ first-round picks after a productive career at Georgia. McDonald was taken in the third round out of USC.
“They’re both very instinctive players, and they’re intelligent, and they’re studying,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “Neither one of them is struggling whatsoever in the system and the scheme. They’re going to be impact players for us.”
Both are atop the unofficial depth chart and about to get their first real test in the preseason opener Thursday night at Cleveland.
“It’s very exciting, to be on this stage,” Ogletree said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do all my life and I’m looking forward to being out there.”
McDonald was fired up about the practice in the Edward Jones Dome over the weekend, but knows he needs to harness the adrenaline.
“It’s happening now,” McDonald said. “I’m going to let my preparation in camp, everything they’ve taught me, let that guide me through it.
“I’ll try not to get too emotionally involved, but I’m definitely going to soak it in.”
Fisher overhauled the defense his first season with six new starters including tackle Michael Brockers and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Both were named to Pro Football Weekly’s all-rookie team.
The Rams tied for the NFL lead with 52 sacks last season, and veteran leaders believe they have the potential to be a top 10 defense. The youth movement has been fueled by a surplus of first-rounders from the trade that sent the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft to Washington, which the Redskins used to select Robert Griffin III.
Will Witherspoon provides insurance at linebacker in his second go-around with the Rams. He also can help mentor the 21-year-old Ogletree, who was first-team All-SEC last year and has the speed to go sideline to sideline.
The Rams are replacing both safeties from last season. Holdover Darian Stewart, who was second on the team in tackles in 2011, is the likely starter at strong safety.
Brockers was a first-rounder last year and had a strong finish after missing the first month with a high ankle sprain, finishing with four sacks.
Jenkins was a second-rounder last year and made a dazzling debut with three interception returns for touchdowns and a fourth score on a punt return.
Fisher said Daryl Richardson has the inside track on the running back job after a productive rookie year as Steven Jackson’s backup. Isaiah Pead, a second-rounder last year who played little as a rookie, and fifth-round pick Zac Stacy are also in the mix.
Players had to handle the heat for the first time in perhaps a couple weeks, with a high temperature of 89 degrees at practice. It had been unseasonably cool with temperatures in the 70s.
“They did fine,” Fisher said. “Obviously they’re in good shape and I thought they handled the heat pretty well.”