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2018 DuckNews Preview: Linebackers

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Defensively Oregon uses a base 3-4 defensive alignment with Justin Hollins being a player that switches from linebacker to the defensive line, depending on the game situation.

With the linebacker group one of the Ducks deepest positions on defense, Jim Leavitt’s scheme makes perfect sense. The more athletic linebackers Oregon has on the field at one time, the better.

Junior Troy Dye is not only the leader of the linebackers, but the leader of the defense as a whole and for good reason. Dye is one of the best linebackers in the country and barring injury, is a sure fire NFL first round draft pick this coming April.

Dye, a 6-4, 224-pound junior from Norco, Calif. was a second-team all-conference player last season and should be a first-teamer in 2018. If there’s a pre-season award watch list for defense, Dye’s name will appear somewhere. He’s been the face of the defense for two seasons and the stat sheet proves it.

He’s one of three defensive players to start all 13 games last season and extended his streak of consecutive starts to 20. Dye led the team in tackles with 107 in 2017. It was the second consecutive season to lead the team in tackles to become the first Duck to accomplish the feat since 1992. Dye is also one of just five players from a power conference to lead his team in tackles in 2016 and 2017 and he ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in tackles and tackles for loss with 13.5.

But Dye isn’t alone.

He’ll be flanked by the likes of La’Mar Winston, Jr. and Kaulana Apelu and well as hybrid players Jalen Jelks and Hollins.

Winston is a 6-2, 218 junior from Portland that played in all 13 games last season, including seven starts. For the season Winston managed 49 tackles, 27 of those being of the solo variety … AS the year went on, the better Winston played as he began to feel for comfortable. He produced 31 tackles and five stops for loss over the final six games. Should Winston continue his progress, it’s going to be a fun season for Central Catholic High grad.

At 5-10 and 204 pounds, Apelu is one of those linebackers that blockers have a hard time finding because of his speed and size. Now a senior, Apelu was a walk-on for his first two seasons in Eugene. He was awarded a scholarship before his junior season and he awarded the coaches with 20 tackles in five games. But his season was cut short due to injury. Hopefully Apelu can stay healthy and make an impact on defense as well as on special teams.

Another Portland native, MJ Cunningham, might see time on the field as a true freshman. Cunningham was a three-star recruit and ranked as the No. 7 ranked prospect in the state last season out of Madison High School.

Oregon has a handful of true freshmen including Andrew Johnson, Anthony Booker, Isaiah Pitre, Adrian Jackson as well as redshirt freshman Isaac Slade-Matautia, a four-star recruit from Hawaii. He was the No. 2 player to come out of Hawaii in 2017 and tabbed as the 11th best inside linebacker in the country by Rivals.

Someone Oregon was hoping to have on the field this season was Miami transfer DJ Johnson, but the Ducks will have to wait until 2019 for his services says the NCAA. Johnson played in eight games last season for the Hurricane, including the ACC championship game against Clemson and the Orange Bowl vs. Wisconsin. He was a four-star recruit out of Sacramento and was one of the top defensive recruits in California in the 2017 class.

   ~ Don Smalley

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