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The Film Room: Jalen Jelks, Justin Hollins ascending defensively with Jim Leavitt

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Oregon’s duo has risen to the occasion in the 3-4 defense

Oregon v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Aside from the running game, Oregon’s defense has been the highlight of the 2017 season thus far. Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt couldn’t ask for more from his players, especially defensive end Jalen Jelks and linebacker Justin Hollins.

Over the first few weeks of the season, we evaluated the entire Oregon team and highlighted each player that stood out on game day. Now that it’s conference season, we will select an individual player to evaluate each week from the previous Duck game.

OREGON’S 2017 RESUME

  • (4-1, 1-1)
  • 49.6 PPG
  • 248 TOTAL POINTS
  • 26.0 PA
  • 30.0 MOV
  • 2,687 TOTAL YARDS
  • 537.4 TOTAL YPG
  • 276.6 PASS YPG
  • 9 PASS TD
  • 25 RUSH TD
  • 260.8 RUSH YPG
  • 5.3 YPC
  • 28:07 AVG TOP
  • 35-for-35 XP
  • 1-for-2 FG
  • 332.2 YA PG
  • 7 INT
  • 20 SACKS
  • 43 TFL
  • 32 PD
  • 1 SPECIAL TEAMS TD

Key Players: Royce Freeman (720 TOTAL YDS, 10 TD) and Troy Dye (45 TKL, 3 SACK, 1 INT)

Southern Utah v Oregon
Oregon head coach Willie Taggart has been extremely impressed by his defensive end, Jalen Jelks. No. 97 has exhibited consistency, alongside continually creating havoc for opposing quarterbacks this season. Thus far, he has 20 total tackles, 6.5 TFL, four pass deflections and three sacks.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

JALEN JELKS

  • The junior pops off the film, every time I rewatch the games, Jelks jumps off the screen with freaky athleticism and rare abilities. Coming off his career game vs Arizona State, it was easy to watch how Jelks followed his breakout performance.
  • Some say he’s only a pass rusher, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Honestly, he plugs gaps very well for always enduring a double team from opponents. He’s currently tied for fourth on the team in total tackles with Kaulana Apelu (20). Anytime your defensive end is tied with a starting linebacker for tackles, it’s a good sign.
  • Even when he’s prevented from getting into the backfield, the 6-foot-6 end will shift to the other side of the line with great ease if they play changes directions.
  • He’s very fluid with a 245-pound frame. This is much lighter than most at his position, but being lighter actually works to his advantage of being more explosive, elusive and quick around the edge.
  • Jelks’ hands are extremely active, which is a need for any great defensive end.
  • Next to the true freshman Jordon Scott at nose tackle, Jelks has been enabled some space to operate. Oregon hasn’t had a defensive tackle like the “Mini Fridge” since Haloti Ngata was creating mass chaos in the middle of the D-line.
  • When watching Jelks, I can’t help but be reminded of Julius Peppers. He’s so smooth athletically, it makes me wonder if he could play for Dana Altman and the basketball team like Peppers did at North Carolina. I’m sure Jordan Bell would come back to teach a lesson or two to the Phoenix product. Regardless, he needs to weight but his frame is the prototype for an NFL defensive end.
  • He lines up everywhere on the defensive front. You can catch him on the edge or a more traditional defensive tackle slot when the Ducks have four on the D-line.
  • Jim Leavitt was substituting Jelks off the field on first downs until injuries forced him to play every down for stretches. With this savvy move, Jelks had more energy on second down which helped Oregon’s defense force more third and long situations.
  • On Cal’s final drive of the first quarter, Jelks came onto the field for 2nd and 13 after watching his defense on first down from the sideline. The lengthy DE lined up in the DT position as Oregon rushed four. He threw up his left hand and deflected the pass from Cal QB Ross Bowers. It was his fourth deflection of the year, placing him second on the team behind only cornerback Arrion Springs (9).
  • Jelks’ drive and push upfield when playing alongside Scott is special. Their connection will only grow over time and I can see this as a lethal combo next season, especially if Jelks adds some lbs and Scott loses some.
  • His relentless pursuit is what separates him from other talented ends. With himself and fellow DE Henry Mondeaux absorbing routine double teams, it enables others like Scott, Hollins and Troy Dye an opportunity to create havoc.
  • On each Oregon sack vs Cal, Jelks was taking up space and monopolizing their offensive line’s attention. With both Hollins’ sacks, Jelks was plugging the middle as he undertook the double team.
  • His numbers may not have been crazy on Saturday, but his impact was immeasurable. Just ask Bowers about Jelks’ presence. On more than a few occasions, Jelks drilled Bowers just after he released the ball. It always affects the pass attempt and alters the QBs mindset.
  • On two Oregon sacks on Saturday, Jelks actually missed the sack but pushed the quarterback into the arms of one of his teammates. Both Mondeaux and Hollins should be thanking Jelks for their respective sacks of Bowers.
  • If he’s not being awarded sacks, you can bet he’s hurrying the quarterback or forcing them into a bad pass or turnover by making them get rid of the ball prematurely. That’s just as important as a sack in the stat column.
  • By the end of this season, Jelks will be a household name around Pac-12 families. It’s only a matter of time before the nation takes notice of this special talent. There is no question that every opposing quarterback he faces is aware of his skill set.

JUSTIN HOLLINS

  • Most of the time, he tears off the edge of Oregon’s defensive line from the right side. He has a vast array of moves, from a spin to a swim and a straight bull rush.
  • Hollins works in any defense because of his understanding, play recognition, explosiveness, tackling ability and athleticism.
  • Mondeaux may be the captain of the defense, but Hollins is a player who leads by example. Troy Dye calls the plays, but Hollins helps finish them.
  • The junior linebacker is tied with Jalen Jelks for the team-lead in sacks with 3.5 this year. Hollins is second on the defense in TFL (6.5) behind only Dye (7.5). Additionally, he’s also second to Dye in total tackles with 27 thus far.
  • At 6-foot-5, he’s a nightmare to block on the offensive end like Jelks. Most of the time, a team like Cal will keep their tight end inside for max protection schemes. That was the case on Saturday, as the Bears do not possess an explosive offensive attack.
  • Hollins was a former defensive lineman who transitioned to linebacker. Being on the outside, especially in Leavitt’s 3-4 defense, is basically like a defensive end who edge rushes consistently. He’s a perfect fit and the scheme was made for players like him.
  • He did not deflect any passes on Saturday and Hollins has yet to this season. However, his biggest impact is felt inside the numbers. The ferocious tackler has already forced two fumbles in 2017.
  • Cal had to adjust on the run continually with Hollins occupying the edge. He creates mismatches and forces a team to make a decision to double team him or one of his teammates like Jelks, Mondeaux, Scott, Pagano or Dye. Clearly, UO’s options continue to grow in numbers.
  • Even when a tight end tries to hold Hollins, he will just continue powering forward. In fact, he doesn’t quit on the play because he’s being held like others around football. Instead, Hollins continues his pursuit of the ball and eventually, a referee will see the tug or pull on his jersey and pads. Regardless, Hollins forces an opposing offense to focus on blocking him.
  • He’s a sound tackler who wraps up fundamentally.
  • Cal tried to get Hollins out of his gap assignments, especially in the second half. Yet, the junior stayed disciplined within the defensive concept and forced the play back inside for one of his teammates to clean up. Even if he’s not getting credit for the stat, Hollins is rewarded when a teammate steps up. The linebacker knows his role and plays it to perfection.
  • He’s a student of the game and learns offensive tendencies quickly throughout a game. Hollins did this a few times in the final 30 minutes vs Cal.
  • Hollins creates seams in the defense for Leavitt to attack with blitzes by linebackers or members of the secondary. It can’t be understated the shift that occurs when Hollins occupies single coverage. His motor doesn’t allow him to be constrained by oncoming blockers for very long.
  • It may not be easy to see live, but Hollins has very strong hands. He can pull a player down by his jersey alone, which incorporates finger strength specifically. That also lets you know that most players won’t be escaping his grasp once he gets ahold of them.
  • If you have seen Leonard Floyd from the Chicago Bears, I’m reminded of him when I watch Hollins. The second-year man out of Georgia is an emerging DE in the NFL and I can see Hollins traveling down a similar path after his collegiate career is over.
  • Hollins’ stamina is impeccable. Late in the fourth quarter, he was still trying his Dwight Freeney spin move off the edge. His potential is limitless and his tank never runs out of gas. If there is someone who is needed to play a different position for his team, it’s Hollins.
  • His lone hiccup came after a fourth-quarter sack, as he excessively celebrated.

We will break down the next player on Thursday after the Washington State game this weekend!

Next up for the Ducks (4-1) is a meeting with the No. 11 Cougars (5-0) at Autzen Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 5:00 p.m. PT via FOX.

Stay tuned, if you want to; Twitter @TheQuackFiend Gram @eugene_levys_eyebrows