Sampson Niu

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

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 6)...: Troy Dye gets some help

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 6)...: Troy Dye gets some help

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. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backsLinebackersDefensive line.   

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).

Key backups: Sampson Niu, So., (6-1, 215); Fotu T. Leiato II, Sr., (5-1, 198).

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. 

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 10 - Taggart will need several incoming freshman to contribute

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 10 - Taggart will need several incoming freshman to contribute

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver.  

We've already listed several freshman in this list. Quarterback Braxton Burmeister will likely be the backup now that Travis Jonsen and Terry Wilson Jr. have transferred. Cornerback Thomas Graham could start, he was that good during spring. Nose tackle Jordon Scott will be needed in the middle, especially now that junior Rex Manu is out for the season following an injury suffered in a car accident. Slot receiver Darrian McNeal must provide depth at a thin position made thinner by the dismissal of senior Darren Carrington Jr. from the team. Safety Billy Gibson could be in the mix at a very uncertain position. 

All of the freshmen above were around for spring drills as early enrollees. But what of the incoming freshmen who have just arrived on campus? Well, several of them might be needed to perform this season, as well.  

Here is as look at a handful:

Austin Faoliu, defensive line: Oregon is excited about the three-star recruit with five-star potential. At 6-foot4, 295-pounds, he fits the mold of being a big defensive lineman with attitude that could provide instant impact. This is the first defensive line recruit corralled by famed defensive line coach and recruiter, Joe Salave'a. Four-star recruit Rutger Reitmaier's decision to transfer following spring ball makes Faoliu's development more imperative. 

Deommodore Lenoir, defensive back: The No. 1-rated athlete in the nation - as named by Rivals.com - should find his way onto the field in some capacity. He could see time at cornerback or safety, positions that have bodies but little in the way of consistency. 

Sampson Niu, linebacker: The four-star recruit could find his way into the linebacker rotation right away. Ultra athletic and tenacious, if Niu can pick up the Ducks' schemes he might have the same impact Troy Dye had last season as a freshman. But at 217 pounds, Niu must bulk up in a hurry. 

Bruce Judson, wide receiver: The four-star recruit is a shifty playmaker that could push for time in the slot and might also be in the running to make it on the team's depth chart at quarterback. 

Cyrus Habibi-Likio, linebacker/safety/running back: A tremendous athlete, Habibi-Likio could play all over the field. Chances are he won't be in the running back mix this season - Oregon is loaded there - but he could find some action on defense. 

 

The Finished List

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Alex Ofodile, Malik Lovette and Darrian McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

How Oregon's recruits fit in: LBs - Tough competition ahead

How Oregon's recruits fit in: LBs - Tough competition ahead

Oregon coach Willie Taggart last week signed his first recruiting class, which Rivals.com ranked No. 18 in the nation. Now CSN is taking a look at how each new recruit could fit into the Ducks' plans next season.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backsWide receivers/tight endsOffensive line, Defensive line, Defensive backs.

Today: Linebackers.

New Ducks: Inside linebackers Sampson Niu (6-1, 217, Madison, H.S., San Diego, Calif.) and Isaac Slade-Matautia (6-1, 206, St. Louis High School, Honolulu, Hawaii), and athlete Cyrus Habibi-Likio (6-1, 211, St. Francis H.S., Mountain View, Calif.). 

Projected starters (3-4 defense): Outside linebacker Troy Dye, Soph., (6-4, 225), inside linebacker A.J. Hotchkins Sr., (5-11, 230), inside linebacker Jimmie Swain, Sr., (6-2, 235) and outside linebacker La'Mar Winston Jr., Soph., (6-3, 220).

Key backups: Inside linebackers - Danny Mattingly, RSr., (6-5, 245) and Keith Simms, Soph., (6-3, 235). Outside linebackers - Eric Briscoe, RFr., (6-3, 225), Justin Hollins, RJr., (6-6, 235) and Kaulana Apelu, Jr., (5-11, 200).

The situation: Oregon has plenty of young talent to work with here. Dye is a star. Simms and Winston were 4-star recruits in 2016. Hollins could be an interesting option if he moves to linebacker from defensive end. 

Only Dye is untouchable in the starting lineup with Swain and Hotchkins as the front-runners to start inside. However, they will have to fend off Simms and two very talented inside linebackers, four star recruits Niu and Slade-Matautia. 

Niu, ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 12 inside linebacker in the nation, has a chance to play right away assuming he adds some weight. Playing inside at 217 pounds likely won't cut it.  Slade-Matautia was rated No. 11 in the nation. He is listed at 206 pounds and must add bulk. 

If they live up to their billing, Niu and Slade-Matautia could have an impact in 2017. But that's a big if. 

There's reason to believe that the young outside linebackers, Winston and Briscoe, will take the next step and compete for playing time. They will be joined in that race by Habibi-Likio should he start off his career at linebacker. He could play safety, or even running back.  

The verdict: This competition should be wild. Oregon has seven linebackers that are freshmen or sophomores. Something has to give. On the inside, Swain came on strong late last year but Hotchkins was wildly inconsistent. Expect at least one of the two freshmen inside linebackers to play in 2017. Habibi-Likio might have a tougher battle in front of him on the outside because of the potential of Briscoe and Winston. But only Dye has established himself there. In other words, who truly knows what's going to happen? This could be the Ducks' most interesting position group to watch. 

Next up: Defensive backs

Oregon recruiting ticks up a notch with commitment from LB Sampson Niu

Oregon recruiting ticks up a notch with commitment from LB Sampson Niu

Oregon's recruiting efforts continued to trend upward this week with the verbal commitment of four-star linebacker Sampson Niu out of San Diego, Calif. 

Rivals.com ranks Niu as the 14th best inside linebacker in the nation. 

The addition of Niu gives the Ducks' 2017 class six commitments with three coming from players listed as four-star recruits, according to Rivals. 

Two weeks ago, the Ducks stood at an anemic two commits for the current class. Since, Oregon has received four commitments, two of four are four-star recruits, including West Linn offensive lineman Alex Forsyth

Oregon's class ranks at a low 55th in the nation, behind Oregon State (54th). But at least it's showing life. The fact that 50 percent of the players who have committed to Oregon are four-star recruits is a strong sign that a very good class could be in the works. 

Oregon's 2016 class ranked 29th in the nation with five four-star recruits. The 2015 class had eight four-star recruits and finished ranked No. 17.