ATHENS -- It may have surprised fans. It caused a bit of confusion for Alec Ogletree, too. Why take a potential star safety and turn him into an inside linebacker?
But Jarvis Jones thought it was a good move -- almost a year before it happened.
“When I first came in, they told me he was a safety, and I was like, ‘Dog he’s about my size,’ ” recalled Jones, a 230-pound linebacker.
The coaches ended up agreeing with Jones, although not just because of Ogletree’s size.
Ogletree’s move to inside linebacker basically had a turnover effect on the Georgia defense for this season. It remains to be seen whether that change will be for the better.
By the end of last season, Ogletree was perhaps the team’s most reliable safety, having leap-frogged two veterans to be the starter at free safety. He was the team’s highest-profile recruit in 2010 and seemed next in Georgia’s recent line of standout safeties, like Thomas Davis, Sean Jones, Reshad Jones and Paul Oliver.
But Todd Grantham had other ideas. The second-year defensive coordinator felt Ogletree’s size, speed and skill set would work better at inside linebacker. Put another way, he wanted Ogletree’s hard-hitting ability on the front seven, around the ball more often with a chance to make plays.
Grantham didn’t unilaterally make the move. First he brought in Ogletree and told him the decision was his, although Grantham made it clear he felt the player should agree to it.
“For him to move, it wasn’t just like a call-him-in and do it spur of the moment,” Grantham said. “It was a process where we showed him here are the things that you can do for us at this position. Here’s your skill set. Here’s where I see you in the future. Here’s how you can impact our team and here’s how you can make plays.
“Truthfully, in my mind that’s where he’s gonna grow to be anyway, when you look at his size and everything. I think it’s a natural move, and I think as he moves forward he’s gonna prove to be productive at that position.”
It didn’t seem quite as natural a move to Ogletree. He has grown more comfortable into the role and has been a star in two preseason scrimmages, racking up the tackles.
But ask him if he feels like a linebacker yet, and he’s candid.
“Some days I do, some days I don’t,” he said. “Some days when I’m just like straight downhill and just moving and making plays I feel like a linebacker. But at the same time sometimes when I get in my drop, I tend to just keep back-pedaling, instead of just getting to an area stopping and waiting on a receiver or somebody to come. So it’s kind of hard.”
Ogletree has actually gained weight, up from 220 pounds, since switching to linebacker. But size isn’t a huge factor. First-year inside linebackers coach Kirk Olividatti pointed out that when he was coaching for the NFL’s Washington Redskins, their All-Pro linebacker is 5-foot-10 London Fletcher.
Christian Robinson, the other starting inside linebacker for Georgia, said Ogletree’s awareness – having played safety last year – is also a help.
“In the scrimmage he had eight, nine tackles. And they were legit,” Robinson said last week, a few days after the team’s second scrimmage. “So he can play. I knock it back to him and let him clean it up. If he has 120 tackles at the end of the season, I’ll take it, and I’ll be glad he did it.”
Head coach Mark Richt was asked this week if Ogletree’s performance in camp so far is helping validate the decision to move him from safety.
“We don’t have any doubt it was the best move for him and for Georgia,” Richt said.
When it came to switching, Ogletree said he trusted in Grantham’s instincts, knowing his defensive coordinator had spent more than a decade in the NFL.
And if he still needs more reinforcement, Ogletree can always turn to the man next to him on the field.
“I think moving him from safety to inside linebacker was one of the best decisions our coaches made for the health of our team,” Jones said. “He would’ve been successful at free safety as well. But I think him being at middle linebacker, it gives him a lot of range: he can run sideline to sideline, he can cover, he can come down and make the big plays. He can get off the blocks. So it’s really helping our defense and our team.”