During the reign of Bill Parcells, when the New York Giants won a pair of Super Bowls in 1987 and ’90, standout linebacker play was at the heart of their success. In ’87 alone, three of the four starters at the position were named to the Pro Bowl.
Fast forward to 2018, and Big Blue hasn’t fielded a Pro Bowl linebacker since Antonio Pierce in 2006, predating the franchise’s two most recent championships. If the drought is to end this year, Alec Ogletree should be the one to break through.
Acquired in a March trade with the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of draft picks, 26-year-old Ogletree is perhaps the most talented interior linebacker the team has had in years. He’s already considered a leader by his teammates, one willing to own up to his own mistakes.
“I take pride in having our defense ready to play,” Ogletree said last week, accepting blame for a pair of long touchdowns allowed during the preseason. “It’s my defense. It’s our defense, but I am in the middle linebacker position.”
Although he has yet to be a Pro Bowl selection, his old team thought enough of the 2013 first-round pick to offer him a four-year, $42 million contract extension just 11 months ago. He surpassed 100 tackles in three of his four full seasons.
But his performance dipped last year, even as his team surged to an NFC West title. He tallied just 95 tackles, a disappointing development given the investment the Rams made in him. Concerns about whether Ogletree’s relative struggles are related to the team’s switch to a 3-4 defense will follow him to New York, which itself is moving to the same scheme under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher and will feature plenty of blitzing.
If Bettcher shares those worries, he hasn’t shown it. The former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator spoke in April of his admiration for Ogletree when the two were on opposite sides of a division rivalry, appreciating his “physicality” as well as his presence as an on-field leader.
“We always thought he was a smart player,” Bettcher said. “… [The Rams] had a bunch of talent on that defense, and for you to be a guy that’s leading a defense that’s that talented says something about you and your character.”