As most Chicago Bears fans are aware, the future of stalwart linebacker Brian Urlacher is in serious question. He's coming off an injury-riddled season in which he dealt with a knee injury that sapped him of his trademark speed and quickness. He finished the year on injured reserve with a hamstring pull and will become a free agent next Tuesday.
If the club chooses to bring him back, a big if for a 35-year-old with knee problems, it will be for a one-year deal at a severely discounted price. Yet that won't help the club in the long-term. Over the next few months, GM Phil Emery must outline a plan to replace Urlacher, whether that be this year or next.
On top of that, two more of the club's top four linebackers, Nick Roach and Geno Hayes, are also free agents. As such, expect Emery to be very active in both free agency and the draft in filling Chicago's needs at linebacker.
One long-term option could be available to the Bears in the first round of this year's draft: Georgia LB Alec Ogletree, a very talented player with baggage. Let's break down the film to see if he could be the right fit in the Windy City.
Weight: 242 pounds
Arms: 33 ½ inches
Hands: 10 inches
40-Yard Dash: 4.70 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Jump: 33.5 inches
Broad Jump: 122.0 inches
3-Cone Drill: 7.16 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.39 seconds
Ogletree started five games at safety his freshman season at Georgia and was switched to linebacker the following year in 2011. By 2012, he developed into one of the best linebackers in the nation.
Ogletree can run. His 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine wasn't all that impressive, yet with the pads on, he can fly. He easily has enough speed to chase down ball carriers from sideline to sideline at the next level. And as far as big hitters go, there are few better. When Ogletree is moving North-South with a head of steam, he can lay the lumber with the best of them.
Against the run, many have questioned his ability to get off blocks and separate once engaged. On film, he does struggles at times with this – although Urlacher also had trouble in this area – yet after watching him on tape, I see an aggressive player who fights hard to disengage from opposing linemen. He uses his quickness and agility to dip, spin and rip away from blockers. It doesn't always work, and he can get caught up in the wash, but it's not a big deficiency in my opinion.
In coverage, Ogletree shows good awareness and has the stop-start speed to close ground in a hurry. On one play I charted, he fell down as the man he was covering was coming out of his break. Ogletree was then able to recover and still get his hand on the ball. It was an impressive display of burst and playmaking ability.
He's a fluid runner who, if drafted by the Bears, would have no problem dropping into the deep middle zone, which is crucial from a middle linebacker in a Cover 2 scheme. Also, as a blitzer, Ogletree improved measurably his junior year, picking up 3.0 sacks.
Ogletree has two big flaws. The first is his relatively small frame. He has the body type of a safety and will need to add upper body strength at the next level. If he can accomplish that goal, it will go a long way toward helping him be stout at the point of attack.
The second concern with Ogletree is his off-the-field problems. He was suspended for one game his freshman season due to an incident stemming from a stolen scooter helmet. He was suspended the first four games last year due to at least one failed drug test. And a week before the combine, he was cited with a DUI.
The question the Bears must answer, as well as the rest of the NFL, is whether or not Ogletree's talent, which is considerable, outweighs his string of problems off the field.
Ogletree is one of the biggest risk/reward players in this year's draft. He's a surefire first-round talent who would likely be picked in the Top 10 if it weren't for the off-field problems. He's immensely talented and could be a Pro Bowler for the next decade, yet he could also flame out in less than three years if he doesn't improve his attitude.
The Bears have a lot of needs to fill heading into the 2013 season. Middle linebacker is one of those, but it's not as important as the offensive line or tight end positions. While Ogletree is a potential beast, his character problems make him extremely risky at 20th overall.
If I'm in Emery's shoes, I would pass on Ogletree and add a linebacker in the later rounds or in free agency, or both.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.