Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018.
Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 6)...: Troy Dye gets some help.
Key losses: Seniors Jimmie Swain, Jonah Moi and A.J. Hotchkins ended their careers at Oregon.
Projected starters: Inside linebacker Troy Dye, Jr., (6-4, 224); inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu, Sr., (5-11, 200); outside linebacker Justin Hollins, RSr., (6-5, 238); outside linebacker, La'Mar Winston Jr., Jr., (6-2, 214).
What we know: Dye is one of the best linebackers in the Pac-12 and easily the best defensive player on the Ducks. He led the team with 107 tackles, far ahead of Swain's 65, second most on the team.
Hollins came into his own after finally being put into a position to succeed at outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense rather than being used as an undersized defensive end in the 4-3 under the previous regime in 2016. His 11 1/2 tackles for loss ranked third on the team behind defensive end Jalen Jelks (15) and Dye (13 1/2).
What we don't know: Is Winston ready to have a huge impact and who will join Dye at inside linebacker?
Winston, a former four-star recruit, had eight tackles for loss in seven starts last season. Apelu began the year as a starter inside but an early injury knocked him out for the season.
Apelu has the heart and quickness the Ducks would want inside but at 200 pounds, he is dramatically on the light side for an inside linebacker. But there is no clear threat to his position as a starter entering the offseason.
What must happen for Oregon to contend: Dye and Hollins give the ducks two impact linebackers, which is more than most teams can boast. But in order to contend, the Ducks will need Winston to build upon last season and become that third outstanding linebacker on the field. Plus, Oregon must find a solution at the other inside linebacker spot. Niu, a four-star recruit last year, is a possibility, but he is also undersized.
Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 7)...: The D line replaces Mondeaux.