When a traditional NFL scout rolls the film of Alec Ogletree’s games, he’ll probably become quickly upset. Ogletree, an inside linebacker in Georgia’s 3-4 defense, is somewhat allergic to physicality.
He’s not particularly fond of offensive linemen combination blocking him at the second level, which is evident by his reluctance to use his hands to avoid the blocks. At times, he’ll just stand and get blocked out of the play. Just watch the SEC Championship game against Alabama. On some running downs, it’s like he wasn’t even playing as he’s moved out of middle of the field like a truck cleaning a snowy road.
Yet some consider him the top inside linebacker in this class. He’s probably not for some scouts, such as the aforementioned traditionalists. They’re looking for a certain toughness, a specific physicality, and most importantly, an all-in willingness to defend the run. He’ll have to bring all three traits to the pros if he plans on making a living playing football.
Technique (or a lack thereof) like the following can’t happen as often as tit did in college. When the play starts, quarterback A.J. McCarron hands the ball off to running back T.J. Yeldon to the left. On the back-side of the play, Ogletree is met by tight end Michael Williams, who is one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft.
When Williams nears him, Ogletree doesn’t raise his hands, instead giving his inside shoulder up. By doing that he offers the tight end an opportunity to kick him wide of the ball-carrier, who now makes a jump-cut in the linebacker’s direction.
Realizing that Yeldon is coming his way, Ogletree stands up, finally raises his hands, and disengages from the block. He easily does this with his athleticism and quickness, which are superior to every linebacker’s in the draft, but he still misses the tackle. If he would have used his hands when he first met Williams, perhaps he could have eluded the block and made a stop at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Many will have concerns with Ogletree’s lack of physicality. He’s not quite lacking it, however; he’s just lacking the willingness to be consistently physical.
There are times when he uses his hands to avoid trash at his feet or defeat single blocks and make a stop — he just doesn’t do it nearly enough. When he has a clear path to the ball-carrier and isn’t out of control (he needs to improve his discipline), he covers ground at an absurd speed and finishes violently.
What makes him a top-tier prospect is his speed. He has range unlike any other linebacker that has come into the league over the years. He has the straight-line speed to make up for any mistakes in reading his keys or when his teammates misread theirs. He bailed out his teammates on occasion by unfathomably catching up to and tackling ball-carriers a dozen yards downfield when he’s on the opposite end of the field. What looks to be a sure first down can easily become fourth down when Ogletree is in pursuit.
Now what he has to do is use that speed and the previously noted quickness to beat heavy-footed, pulling guards and tight ends.
In recent years, prospects such as Derrick Johnson, Sean Weatherspoon, and Zach Brown have come out of the draft as one-dimensional linebackers with great speed and quickness, but they lack the physicality or girth to defend the run. In Weatherspoon and Brown’s cases, they went to a 4-3 team and have been protected up front by one and three techniques. However, Johnson was forced to take on guards in the Chiefs’ two-gap, 3-4 defense.
Today, Johnson is one of the best inside linebackers in the game. How? He used his quickness and speed to work around offensive linemen or lower his pads more than they do theirs. That’s what Ogletree needs to do when he gets to the NFL. He just needs to be more willing to do it, unlike he was in college.
Will he? Nobody knows. That’s why the criticisms of his run defense are 100 percent valid. However, one should also keep in mind that he can improve, like Derrick Johnson did.