All time Rams franchise leading tackler and longtime defensive stalwart at the middle linebacker position James Laurinaitis departed during this offseason to sign a free agent deal with New Orleans. Losing a leader on the field of this magnitude obviously leaves behind some big shoes to fill, and it is imperative that his presence is not missed too sorely if the Rams are to make the playoffs in their first season back in Los Angeles. There is added significance to this role considering that the team did, in fact, have the worst offense in the NFL last year. The players on the defensive side of the football must be a dominant force if the Rams are to be relevant in the NFC West, a division featuring the likes of the mighty Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.
Stepping into Laurinaitis’s shoes at the MLB position is University of Georgia product Alec Ogletree, acquired in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. The 24 year old linebacker played OLB during his first two seasons, but is now preparing himself to take on the added responsibilities of moving over to the middle. “It’s going to be a great challenge for me — probably my biggest challenge that I’ve had my whole football career,” Ogletree said this past spring. “I’m definitely excited about it and ready to get the ball rolling.”
After suffering an ankle injury during week 4 of the 2015 regular season, Mark Barron was able to move into a hybrid safety/linebacker role during his contract season, and performed admirably, finishing the year as the team leader in tackles. The Rams rewarded him with a 5 year pact reportedly to the tune of 45 million dollars. He is slotted to be the team’s OLB on the weak side this year.
Akeem Ayers, former UCLA star, is projected to start again this season as strong-side OLB following a strong showing at that position last year for the Rams.
Ogletree, however, will be the leader in the middle for the corps of linebackers. He claims to have learned much by playing alongside Laurinaitis the past 2 seasons.
“He’s a great player and, pretty much, he helped me since the day I walked in,” said Ogletree. “It was sad to see him go but I take the position knowing that I learned some stuff from him as far as how to be a leader on the field. How to be accountable. Just be there in the time of need. Just be dependable.”
This will be the first time Ogletree will be expected to be the team’s starting MLB:
“It will be a different experience now that I have to know everything that goes on and basically be the quarterback of the defense,” he said.