Converted DE Jalen Jelks gives Oregon Pac-12's top LB corps

Oregon Ducks outside linebacker Jalen Jelks speaks during Pac-12 Media Day in Hollywood in July.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jelks is more than just an impressive outside speed rusher

EUGENE -- Oregon co-defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt knows a little something about creating pressure off the edges.

Before stops in Eugene and Boulder in the Pac-12, as well as being the linebacker coach for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2014, Leavitt served as head coach at the University of South Florida. There, he helped a raw edge rusher named Jason Pierre-Paul earn the No. 15 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, still the highest selection ever for a Bulls' football player.

While JPP went on to become a Pro Bowl defensive end, helping the New York Giants win two Super Bowls and now rushing the passer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it was his teammate, George Selvie, who remains the team's leader in career sacks (29), as well as tackles for loss in a single season (31.5 in 2007).

I vividly remember the long-armed 6-foot-4, 247-pound Selvie and the broken quarterbacks he and Pierre-Paul left behind in the Big East. I watched a similar multi-headed pass-rushing monster growing this week at the University of Oregon, where former defensive end Jalen Jelks is being asked to play more of a stand-up rush linebacker role opposite fellow senior Justin Hollins.

Each roughly 6-5, 245 with broad shoulders, long arms and tapered middles, Jelks and Hollins give the Ducks towering twins off the edge. Speedy juniors Troy Dye and La'Mar Winston Jr. complete a re-shuffled linebacker corps that is as gifted as any in the Pac-12 and is perhaps among the elite groups in the country.

By fortunate coincidence, I happened to be walking out of the Ducks' sprawling facility just as Jelks left and had a moment to catch up with him.

As one might expect of a senior, Jelks assured me that he's fine with the position switch at this late point in his career. That wouldn't be the case for everyone, especially for a player coming off a junior season in which he led the Ducks in sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (15), earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors from league coaches.

Jelks, in fact, sounded excited about the new role. He said he's always been more about the team than personal statistics and proved his point by sharing that he even played left tackle when needed in high school.

The experience along the line of scrimmage is clear in Jelks' play. While possessing roughly the same size and burst up-field as his fellow draft-worthy teammate Hollins (Oregon's second-best senior NFL prospect), Jelks is the most powerful of the Ducks linebacker group, using his heavy, massive hands and quickness to break free from would-be blockers.

Further, when he keeps his pad level low, Jelks shows impressive strength at the point of attack, effectively setting the edge in the running game Thursday against third-year starter Calvin Throckmorton, the Ducks' most consistent blocker and also a future NFL draft pick.

While Jelks is more powerful against the run than he looks, the primary reason he and Hollins intrigue NFL teams is their potential to impact the passing game. Each boasts the initial burst to challenge tackles with outside speed rushes, as well as the flexibility to dip and close. The galloping strides of Jelks and Hollins, in fact, helped each also stand out during punt coverage duty Thursday. It is a traditional role both likely will be asked to fill in the NFL.

With respected defensive line coach (and co-defensive coordinator) Joe Salave'a fine-tuning young replacements, the Ducks appear to be in good position up front to handle the move of Jelks to linebacker.

Junior defensive end Drayton Carlberg (6-5, 282) is noticeably stronger than a year ago, as is defensive tackle Gary Baker (6-3, 318). Stubby 6-1, 329-pound sophomore nose guard Jordon Scott also returns and is already one of the conference's better run-stuffers.

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