Are the St. Louis Rams Misusing Alec Ogletree?
However, if the team's recent minicamp is any indication, the Rams are in danger of squandering that young player's talents by jamming a square peg into a round hole.
As Nick Wagoner of the Rams' website reports, Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, who the Rams selected with the 30th overall pick in the draft, lined up at strong side linebacker during the Rams' recent minicamp.
Now granted, I'm not a coach (although I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night), but if the Rams intend to leave Ogletree on the strong side that's a mistake.
Alec Ogletree is a very athletic player, a speedy linebacker who is at his best when he's flying around the field.
However, there's one criticism of Ogletree that was almost universal before the draft. It's the same criticism that was leveled at Zach Brown of the Tennessee Titans a year ago.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network seconded Tomlinson's observation in NFL.com's scouting report on Ogletree, writing that "This kid does not take on the blockers, but he's a great athlete."
Well, guess what two of the most important traits are for a 4-3 strong side linebacker?
If you said physicality and a willingness to take on blockers, then you get a cookie.
Just in case you aren't fluent in football-speak, the strong side of the formation is simply the side with more players on it. Usually that means the side that the tight end lines up on, and more often than not it's the right side.
On strong side running plays, the tight end's (or fullback's) primary responsibility is often to engage the linebacker on that side. It then falls to that linebacker to fight off that block and get to the ball-carrier.
Meanwhile, weak side linebackers do a lot more "roaming". It's the reason why many 4-3 squads put their biggest linebacker on the strong side, and their fastest on the weak side.
One needs to fight through the trash to get to the treasure, while the other needs to be able to get from point A to point B in a hurry.
Alec Ogletree is much better at the latter than the former.
That's what makes this move so puzzling.
It may be that the Rams simply don't want to flip Jo-Lonn Dunbar from the weak side to the strong side. That's somewhat understandable. After all, Dunbar had by far his best NFL season in 2012, racking up a career-high 115 tackles in his first year in St. Louis and ranking 15th among outside linebackers according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The Rams may not want to fix something that isn't broken. It's also worth mentioning that Ogletree is about 15 pounds heavier than Dunbar, which may be part of the reasoning behind this little experiment.
However, as the old saying goes, it's not the size of the dog in the fight. It's the size of the fight in the dog.
As the clips in the above video show, Ogletree repeatedly had problems at Georgia with disengaging from blockers once they got their paws on him. That's a problem for any linebacker, but it becomes magnified on the strong side of the formation.
This isn't to say that Alec Ogletree has absolutely no shot at being a successful strong side linebacker. The 6'2", 242-pounder is a special athlete, and it's possible that with some coaching many of the kinks in his game can be worked out.
The problem is, if you put Ogletree on the strong side you're wasting many of the talents that make the converted safety a special athlete to begin with. His range and closing speed are much more valuable to a defense if he's playing in a position that allows him to take full advantage of them.
That's the weak side.
Maybe it will work out. Maybe Ogletree will improve at shedding blocks. Maybe his speed won't be squandered playing "SAM" linebacker. Maybe Ogletree will join Chad Greenway of the Minnesota Vikings and Von Miller of the Denver Broncos, as a rare 4-3 strong side linebacker who is a real difference maker on defense.
That's a lot of maybes, whereas the opposite argument only takes one.
Maybe the Rams should stop jamming that square peg into a round hole.
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