lamar winston

Ducks ready to dim OSU's shiny offensive weapon

Ducks ready to dim OSU's shiny offensive weapon

Usually in the Civil War, Oregon's shiny offensive weapons steal the show. In fact, two Ducks are on record watch this Friday. Be that as it may, this season the Beavers (2-9, 1-7 Pac-12) have an offensive star that is turning heads of their own in true freshman Jermar Jefferson.

Jefferson is a talented workhorse; he leads all freshmen nationally with 1,316 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. In three of his past four games, he has run for at least 100 yards and this season has surpassed 200 rushing yards twice.

Defending Jefferson is a challenge the Ducks (7-4, 4-4) are excited for.

“He is really elusive,” said Oregon outside linebacker LaMar Winston Jr. “I really like to see that because that gives me another chance to get better at open field tackling. That’s the one thing I’ve been working on this season. I’m excited to play against him.”

Winston Jr. added it how much fun he had last Saturday defending Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin. While Benjamin finished with 149 yards on 29 carries, most of those yards came early on long runs and the Ducks adjusted to contained him very well on the outside and prevented him from scoring a touchdown.

Winston Jr. smiles when talking about the 122nd Civil War, because Jefferson isn’t the only player he’s excited to play against.

A Portland native, Winston Jr. is one of eight UO scholarship players from the state of Oregon. He has friends on Oregon State’s team that he considers brothers; cornerback Jaydon Grant (West Linn Highschool) and offensive lineman Blake Brandel (Central Catholic Highschool).

But those friendships will be pushed aside as Oregon tries to win the "most important game of the year” as UO coach Mario Cristobal referred to Friday’s contest. The Ducks have won nine of the last 10 meetings but the loss came in in Reser Stadium in Corvallis. Beavers 34-24 victory capped off a 4-8 UO season that led to the firing of its coaching staff.

Safe to say, Oregon wants to get over its road game woes, limit Jefferson and leave Corvallis victorious this season.

“Rivalry games are huge,” said Winston Jr. “Anything can happen.”

Which Duck linebackers will wreak havoc? The locks, contenders and longshots

Which Duck linebackers will wreak havoc? The locks, contenders and longshots

The Ducks know they have two stars at linebacker in junior Troy Dye and senior Justin Hollins. With the emergence of La’Mar Winston Jr., this position unit could be the strongest on the team.

LOCKS

Troy Dye, junior, inside linebacker: Oregon's defensive MVP for the 2017 season has generated major NFL draft buzz and has landed on three major watch lists; the Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive player), the Butkus award (nation’s best linebacker) and the Nagurski award (nation’s best defensive player).

In his two seasons, the preseason All-American has 198 tackles with 118 solo tackles, 80 assisted tackles and 9.5 sacks.

Justin Hollins, senior, outside linebacker: The Butkus award nominee is heading into his fifth year at Oregon as the only Duck to have played on the unit that helped get Oregon into the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game in 2014.

Last season he forced three fumbles and finished third on the team in tackles for loss (11.5) behind defensive end Jalen Jelks (15) and linebacker Troy Dye (13.5).

La’Mar Winston Jr., junior, outside linebacker: The Len Casanova Award for leadership winner (voted on by his teammates) played in all 13 games for the Ducks in 2017, including seven starts. Five of those starts came over the final six games when he delivered 31 tackles with five for loss. He finished the season with 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks. 

[WATCH: A SUMMER IN PARIS WITH LA'MAR WINSTON JR.]

"(La'Mar)'s put on weight and strength," Dye said. "Seeing his transition from our freshmen year until now is phenonemal."

CONTENDERS

Kaulana Apelu, senior, inside linebacker; The walk-on was placed on scholarship before the start of 2017 season. He played in five games and made three starts, totaling 20 tackles, including three for loss before suffering a season-ending injury. Apelu rehabbed and returned to the field in time for spring practice. In the spring game, he led the Ducks’ defense with nine tackles and returned a tipped pass 100 yards for a touchdown.

Isaac Slade-Matautia, redshirt freshman, inside linebacker: Last season Slade-Matautia utilized his redshirt. ESPN and Rivals ranked the four-star prospect a top two player from the state of Hawaii. He is competing to be in the mix for starting alongside Dye.

"(Isaac)'s a beast," Dye said. "He's going to surprise a lot of people. There are a lot of things that he has taught me."

Adrian Jackson, freshman, inside linebacker: A consensus four-star prospect and the state of Colorado's top player in 2017. Dye called Jackson a "phenomenal beast" a few days into fall camp. Jackson currently backs up Dye at the JACK linebacker position, but says he’d be willing to move to MIKE.

[READ: How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon]

Keith Simms, sophomore, outside linebacker: Suffered a season-ending injury last season. Played both inside and outside throughout spring practices and totaled 8 tackles and a sack during UO’s spring game. Simms could add quality depth if he can stay healthy.

LONGSHOTS

Sampson Niu, sophomore, inside linebacker: In 2017, Niu played in six games and finished with eight tackles and one tackle for loss. He missed spring drills while rehabbing an injury suffered in the Las Vegas Bowl. Four-star prospect and the top inside linebacker in the state of California by Rivals and 247Sports.

MJ Cunningham, true freshman, inside linebacker: A consensus three-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. The Portland-native is another freshman that could crack the rotation.

Who will Herbert sling the ball to? The Locks, Contenders and Longshots at receiver