alec ogletree2

Most young players, rookies or second-year, struggle with discipline. They try too hard to make game-changing plays for their team without knowing what they’re really doing is hurting more than helping. It’s a matter of simply doing their job, as Bill Belichick frequently says to his New England Patriots. With discipline, game-breaking plays will come, and without it, they won’t. Simple as that. That’s why it’s imperative for the Rams’ Alec Ogletree to stop ball-watching so frequently and start dropping into his zones without freelancing.

Ogletree is one of the most physically talented linebackers in the NFL. A former safety, he has range unlike any other defender at his position. He also has very good quickness and is rapidly improving midway into his rookie season. Knocked for lacking physicality coming out of college, he’s improved on taking blocks and escaping them when going downhill. When in reverse, he’s also looked better in the Rams’ Cover 2 dominant defense. But discipline remains an issue for him.

Discipline is key in any defense, but especially when playing as much Cover 2 as the Rams do. It’s heavily used and requires strict fundamental play in order to prevent big plays. It’s purely a zone defense that morphs with four defenders underneath and three deep. At weak-side outside linebacker is Ogletree, where he’s a “hook” defender dropping to the landmark in between the hash and the numbers. That’s the spot where he’s expected to be each time he drops back in Cover 2. What tends to happen, however, is he drops to it and starts floating to other areas of the field or gets sucked in by play action, consequently vacating his assigned area. The result? A big play.

Against the Jaguars in Week 4, Ogletree (No. 52 below) made a mistake that ended up costing his team 21 yards. It was 1st-and-10 at the Rams’ 25-yard line and the Jaguars were in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). This is typically a formation that’s passed out of, so it comes as little surprise when the Jaguars threw from play action.

Lined up on the weak-side of the formation (no tight end side), Ogletree is quick to attack the line of scrimmage and leave his coverage responsibility behind. Expected to drop in between the number and the hash, Ogletree is nowhere to be found in the area, leaving a gaping hole for tight end Clay Harbor to run a crossing route and pick up 21 yards to bring the Jaguars to the four-yard line.

This form of indiscipline is particularly troubling because there’s a small chance that Ogletree is able to make up for it. Because he has exceptional range, he can quickly cover up the ground that he gave up when in standard pass coverage and prevent a pass-catcher from gaining excessive yardage. But when it’s indiscipline against play action, that’s not the case.

In the second quarter of the same game, a freelancing Ogletree didn’t give up a big play but only because quarterback Blaine Gabbert was sacked.

It was a tight 17-10 game with the Rams leading. The Jaguars were stuck in a long third down situation, having to gain 12 yards from their own 18-yard line to extend the marker. With 11 personnel facing the Rams’ Cover 2 defense, they were clearly going to pass the ball. He was on the weak-side of the formation, where he usually is, and a hook dropper in between the left hash and the 30-yard number.

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Ogletree, No. 52, and his responsibility in coverage are circled.

At the snap, Ogletree dropped back into his assigned zone and the Jaguars didn’t send any immediate direct threats his way. In the flat to his left was an outlet and to his right was a tight end running a dig route that would ultimately come in behind him. If he was going to help prevent the Jaguars from picking up a first down, he’d have to stay disciplined and cover the tight end once he invaded territory.

As the play developed, Ogletree found himself wandering around the middle of the field because he was ball-watching. He was watching Gabbert’s eyes, which were focused on his left side of the field, and followed them to the middle of the field, consequently leaving a hole in coverage in between the hash and number. He would have been beaten in coverage if not for Gabbert panicking under duress and completely losing sight of the tight end running the dig route in the middle of the field.

A lack of discipline has been an issue for Ogletree (and the Rams entire defense, really) throughout the season. As recently as weeks four and six against the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans it was an issue, and it’ll likely be one moving forward as well.

He still needs to learn how to play within the system, which can sometimes be difficult in Cover 2 due to the aggressiveness and speed players are expected to play with. It’s a system that’s predicated on jumping routes and keeping eyes on the ball while also maintaining responsibility — a tough line to walk.

If there’s any indication, he’ll likely learn to be walk it and make more plays because of that. He certainly has the talent to do so.