By Jeremy Hritz
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a significant need at inside linebacker. Based on recent reports about the severity of Sean Spence’s knee injury, the likelihood of him returning this season, or returning at all, are greatly in question. The thinking is that Larry Foote will be resigned to man the interior position alongside Lawrence Timmons. While Foote was serviceable in 2012, he will be another year older in 2013, and it would be foolish to believe that his return will make for an improved Steelers defense next season.
The only other logical step would be for the Steelers to select an inside linebacker that has a shot of stepping in and starting, or at least contributing significantly early on.
While there aren’t many quality inside backers in this year’s draft, Alec Ogletree is the name being touted as the best prospect at the position. Unfortunately, with several character issues low-lighted most recently by his DUI arrest, the risks that he presents makes him a player of great uncertainty.
One thing that is certain about Ogletree is that he can play football. At 6’2, 242 pounds, he is described as a natural playmaker with the athleticism to make plays from sideline to sideline. And while he does not have tremendous lower body strength, his closing speed on ball carriers always puts him in a position to make a big play. His career at Georgia began at the safety position before he switched over to inside linebacker in his sophomore year. He finished his career with 197 tackles, recording 111 of them during his senior year.
With the Steelers linebacking corps is in a transition, especially now with the release of James Harrison, the team needs to begin retooling its lineup. The addition of Ogletree to the inside, pairing him with Timmons, would make for a seriously athletic and young interior tandem. And while Ogletree should be available when the Steelers select at 17, whether or not his talent at the position is worth the potential risk is the greatest question. Nothing would be more deflating than to get solid play out of Ogletree only to have him make a bad decision off of the field and put the Steelers back at square one. However, if the team believes that it has the essential supports in place to accelerate Ogletree’s maturation, then selecting him if he is available at pick 17 seems worth it.
Taking Ogletree in the first round is something that the Steelers could be carefully considering in their draft preparations, and you can be assured that they are thoroughly investigating his character and off the field behavior to get a true feel for what they would be getting into. If their analysis indicates that his issues are surmountable, drafting the Georgia product would be a very strong possibility. But you have to think with the team’s misfortunes with Chris Rainey and Alameda Ta’amu in last year’s draft class, it is going to take a lot to convince them.
If only his character matched his athleticism.
Alec Ogletree – Career Statistics at Georgia
Tackles for Loss