Upperclassmen lead a young Oregon defense in spring practice

Senior defensive lineman Jalen Jelks could’ve been preparing for the NFL draft right now, but instead he suited up for day two of his final spring practice season for Oregon football.

“It’s my last one so I have to put into it everything that I have,” Jelks said.

Jelks is one of the senior leaders on the team now. Oregon’s defense will have a lot of young faces playing key roles in the upcoming season, so it’s important to set the right tone.

“I just try to set an example by my actions or by my words,” he said. “I just try to tell everybody what is going on and how we attack and get after it, and go out and do it myself. If they see you doing it, I feel like they follow in your footsteps.”

Head coach Mario Cristobal expects all of Oregon’s early-enrollee freshmen and young players to compete. Spring practice is a crucial time for many of these players to learn.

“We’re going to put them in situations where they have to respond, perform,” Cristobal said. “They’ve trained hard.”

Jelks cited himself, Justin Hollins and junior Troy Dye as the leaders on the defense. The trio has experienced a different defensive coordinators every year throughout their careers, but this season, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is back.

“I think a lot of guys are excited to be able to come here and understand what we’re doing off the jump instead of trying to learn a new defense,” Dye said.

Oregon’s defense was one of the most improved in the country last season. But for the players and coaches there is still a lot to get better at.

“Spring is all about sustaining that momentum from a year ago and a progress up front, then let them prove to us how much they want it and who is going to be the guy,” defensive line coach Joe Salave’a said.

Overall, Cristobal isn’t looking for a depth chart as much as he is looking for an organizational chart this spring.

“It’s time to experiment, move guys around,” Cristobal said. “We’ve got to find out who can do what so we can really build out our identity.”

Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917

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Jack Butler

Jack Butler

I am the sports editor for the Daily Emerald. I cover football and basketball. Email me at [email protected]