Alec Ogletree steps up quickly in Rams defense

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 | 9:32 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — While the St. Louis Rams wait for Tavon Austin to take off, the adjustment period has been smoother for their other first-round pick.

Outside linebacker Alec Ogletree has been a big-play guy from Day 1.

It was easy to see last week at Houston when he jumped a route, caught the ball as if he was the primary receiver and left pursuers in the dust on a 98-yard interception return, high stepping it into the end zone while watching himself on the video scoreboard to make sure the coast was clear.

"It was a little fun," said the soft-spoken Ogletree, a former high school sprinter. "I've always wanted to do that."

Ogletree made a difference early with a forced fumble that was returned 43 yards by middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and set up a field goal for a 10-0 lead at the start of the second quarter.

The 245-pound rookie from Georgia has three forced fumbles, has plenty of speed in coverage and leads the Rams (3-3) with 59 tackles. He's three ahead of Laurinaitis, who has been the team leader each of his four NFL seasons.

"I don't care. As long as we win, baby," Laurinaitis said. "I'll take one, or zero."

The Rams traded up to get Austin with the eighth overall pick of the draft. Austin's best contribution has been double-digit punt returns called back by penalties, some of them that might have directly affected the play.

Austin got only a handful of snaps at Houston and was limited to one reception for 3 yards. Coach Jeff Fisher said Austin just didn't fit into the flow of an unusual blowout, with the Texans dominating in time of possession and rolling up 420 yards.

"It's just the way the game went," Fisher said. "I'm not concerned about it. He'll be fine."

Laurinaitis recalls the learning curve he faced as a second-rounder in 2009 out of Ohio State thrust into action.

"You see a lot of things for the first time," Laurinaitis said. "He's definitely grown from week to week. As long as he continues to climb that way, I think he has a chance to be a special player."

Homework paved the way for Ogletree's interception return. He knew the routes from video review and knew the ball was coming when he saw backup quarterback T.J. Yates "staring the receiver down."

"I knew if I ran hard enough, hopefully I wouldn't get caught," Ogletree said. "That was my goal."

The 22-year-old Ogletree dropped to the bottom of the first round of the draft after an in-season suspension and a DUI arrest a week before the combine. After picking him 30th overall, Fisher said the Rams got a top-15 talent.

The last time the Rams picked a linebacker in the first round was 2002 when they got Robert Thomas, who didn't work out.

"He's running sideline to sideline," Fisher said of Ogletree, "and making a lot of plays for us."

Ogletree has been an every-down player from the start, adjusting to the increased demands in the NFL. More than the speed of the game, the biggest transition has been decision-making.

"I wouldn't necessarily say the speed but more the mental part of it," Ogletree said. "You just have to know what you're doing, and if you make a mistake it can cost the whole team. They can score a touchdown just that fast."

Ogletree had 11 tackles and a forced fumble against Arizona in his debut. He had 10 tackles at Dallas and 11 tackles and a forced fumble against the 49ers.

He has several mentors, including position coaches and all three of the veteran linebackers on the team.

"A lot of the older guys come talk to me about their experience and what goes on," Ogletree said. "I try to take a little bit of something from each one.

"They've been through the ropes and I'm trying to learn them."

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