It's tough to remember sometimes the age of NFL Draft prospects. They're young. They haven't played the game very long.
That stands out perhaps more than anything else when watching Georgia inside linebacker Alec Ogletree.
Young in the sense he was suspended for a handful of games for a violation of team rules. Young, in the sense he sometimes appears to have forgotten the ball was snapped, who has it and what he's supposed to do all at the same time. It seems like he should play a bit stronger than he does, but it's a wonder if that is attached to his perceived lack of awareness too.
But when he is dialed into the game, look out.
I absolutely hate comparing college players to pro players, but it's really hard to avoid the mental comparison to Lawrence Timmons. It took a while for the Steelers linebacker to get on the field because he wasn't dialed into his role on the field. Ogletree looks like that; whether that's a lack of preparation or nerves or just the need for more time to digest what's going on.
He appeared confused fairly often when the Bulldogs took on Kentucky - his third game after a failed drug test cost him the first four games of the season. But by the time they played Ole Miss two games later, he anticipated the play, and had a great second-effort sack as well as an interception 40 yards down the field.
The interception probably stands out the most. Ole Miss ran a quick snap, and the ball was hiked just as Ogletree was saying something to another linebacker. He peeled into coverage, following the slot receiver, and broke into what looked like a deeper middle zone coverage.
He followed the quarterback the entire way, and read a deep post. He followed the ball, found the receiver and made a nice catch at the high point on an underthrown pass.
Sometimes it's not about getting a dead-on-balls diagnosis on a play. It's about having the instincts to figure out what's going on, and make something happen off schedule.
Not that he wasn't impressive on schedule in that game. He showed outstanding flash and burst pursuing runs to the outside, finding creases in blocking to get to the ball carrier.
Ogletree seems to be more of a hand tackler than a thumper, like his size should suggest he is. It points to what seems to be developing instincts for the position; he spends a lot of movement sizing up the ball carrier in the open field, and doesn't draw a great beat on the runner as he's pursuing. He doesn't get low on tackles, doesn't break down well and will likely miss a few he should make because of it.
Plays like an outside sweep against Ole Miss, though, suggests that instinct lays just below the surface. He saw the Rebels shift in presnap, and started to lean toward the what would be the play side. At the snap, he flashed in what would be the perfect lane toward the ball, right where releasing offensive linemen wouldn't get to him in time. He wrapped up and laid a good hit on the ball carrier for a loss, with no other Bulldogs player around him.
Sure, you worry about the supposed character concerns associated with the failed drug test. One could express similar concern about several draft prospects. The question isn't the issue with it happening, it's whether it will happen again. Can you chalk it up to significant personality flaws, or a kid being young and dumb? He can't display that flash if he's serving another suspension later, regardless of which one it is.
That flash, though, is why he's still considered a high-level prospect. His coverage ability is outstanding, and as he continues to grow as a player, he'll continue to improve. He's an excellent physical prospect, he just needs to start playing like it.
Just like Timmons showed four years after the Steelers drafted him No. 15 overall in 2007.