What a difference a game makes. Going into last week's outing against the Denver Broncos, the St. Louis Rams' second of two first-round pick from April, Alec Ogletree wasn't having a good preseason.
As a rookie, it wasn't a surprise that Ogletree struggled against NFL-level competition, but it was still concerning. Somewhere in between, Ogletree must have decided enough was enough; he was going to show fans why the Rams drafted him in the first round.
The Rams needed Ogletree because they needed an athletic, playmaking linebacker behind the defensive line and working alongside James Laurinaitis. He made and missed a few tackles through the first two weeks of the preseason. But the former safety waited until last week's game against the Broncos to give the NFL a look at his playmaking ability.
On the first play, in the GIF below, the Rams are in their base 4-3 defense. Ogletree's responsibility is playing deep coverage on the slot receiver, which he did well. Peyton Manning lines up in the pistol formation and throws a quick dump off to the running back after not seeing anything else worth taking a chance on.
Here's where it gets impressive. Ogletree is playing his man while watching the play unfold. As soon as he sees the ball carrier, he runs to him. Cortland Finnegan hits him low; Ogletree goes high and strips the ball while Finnegan pulls him down. From there, he scoops it up and heads for the end zone.
Ogletree isn't a stranger to picking the ball up and running it in for a score. Here's an example of him scooping and scoring while he was with the Georgia Bulldogs.
On this play, again Ogletree's responsibility is the slot man. Manning is in the shotgun. He looks at number 80, and doesn't like the matchup because Janoris Jenkins is playing pretty good coverage on him. Logically, he checks down to the slot receiver.
This time Ogletree back peddles while watching Manning. He takes the correct depth to keep up with the receiver, while safety T.J. McDonald moves in behind him. Ogletree follows Manning's eyes. He turns and attacks the ball at it's highest point, and if he were left handed, he would have had the interception.
The play below is much like the last play, except that Ogletree swapped from one side of the field to the other. Also with this view it's clear that this is a nickel defense. Again his man is the slot receiver. Ogletree drops back and keeps perfect depth on his man while watching Manning's eyes. This time Manning is again in the shotgun, he looks to the opposite side of the field before coming back to the slot man.
Ogletree hits the ball and then catches it. He didn't score a touchdown but picking off a Manning is a highlight for any rookie, even if it is just the preseason.
Being a former safety gives Ogeltree and edge defending the pass. His athleticism is also rare for a linebacker. Could he be a better tackler and threat against the run? Sure, but if Ogletree can keep making plays like he did against the Broncos and slowly work on his weaknesses, he gives the defense a real X-factor that offenses aren't prepared for from week to week.
Ogletree had a great game against the Broncos, a game that will leave fans wanting more. Now, the question is when we'll see more greatness from Ogletree on a regular basis once the season begins. More games like this and he could be in line for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.