Jalen Jelks emerged as one of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12 last season and has continued to develop into a more well-rounded player in his second season under Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Jelks, who has played defensive end and outside linebacker in Leavitt’s 3-4 scheme, leads Pac-12 defensive linemen with 50 tackles.
“Jalen has just been a warrior for us. He plays hard. I’m really proud of him,” Leavitt said. “He’s a special guy, and I’m excited to see him play great on Saturday night. I know he will, I know he’ll play hard.”
Jelks, a senior from Phoenix who had three sacks and five tackles for loss against Arizona State last season, reflected on his career and discussed Saturday’s “senior night” game against the Sun Devils at Autzen Stadium:
Question: What do you think your emotions will be on Saturday night?
Answer: They’ll be pretty high. I have a lot of my family out here watching my last game at Autzen. I’m really just trying to settle in and kind of let things fly and let things settle in as well. It is my last time, just trying to soak things up and enjoy the moment. It really means a lot. I know I’m going to put a lot of effort in this game. I’ll run around a lot because I know it’s the last chance I get to do it. I’m going to fly around and try to make a lot of plays to help my teammates out and win.
Question: You’ve been used inside and outside this year. What do you consider your natural position to be?
Answer: I’d say my natural position is just defensive end, somebody on the edge. I can still play inside, I can still play outside at the same time. I would just call myself a defensive and. I can play nose, I can play tackle, I can play end, I can play whatever you want me to. I’ve been getting comfortable at outside ‘backer right now, working with coach (Cort) Dennison all week to make sure I can read all my keys. That contributes a lot to my play is reading keys, because if you read the wrong thing you might as well mess up and just not even be involved in the play. Then when I move inside when I’m playing D-line, just watching their stance, watching their hand gestures, calls, little stuff like that, trying to help better my game when I’m inside because I know those guys are a little bit bigger than I am. I just always try to get a little advantage.
Question: After such a productive junior year, are offenses treating you differently this year?
Answer: Yeah, for sure. I’ve been getting triple-teamed, double-teamed a lot more. The ball is running away from me a lot of times. That just calls for me setting the edge if they do try to run the ball to me. I just do what I can when I can, and if the ball does come to me try to eliminate all the distractions and just focus on making a play.
Question: Do you think coming back for your senior season was a good decision in terms of playing at the next level?
Answer: Definitely. Especially this year moving around so much, trying to be a versatile player on the team and just trying to help my team in general, trying to step up as a leader. I feel like that was a big thing for me coming back this year. I learned a lot more as far as the leadership aspect and how to take care of my teammates and how to just accept that role. You know, take charge of the team when needed, and if we’re down and out, just be that vocal leader and step up and say stuff when it needs to be said.
Question: What do you think your legacy at Oregon will be?
Answer: I hope that my legacy will be everlasting as me just being a relentless pursuer, a relentless athlete and make sure that people know I was always trying to be a good person off the field as well. Whether it was helping the young guys, trying to pick up the locker room and stuff like that. I definitely want to be known at Autzen as, not the sack guy, but every time I get into Autzen I always think of sacks for some reason. I’ve always been like the pass rusher guy anyway, so I always want to leave that legacy behind and make sure guys watch my teach tape 10 years down the line like, ‘Oh, I need to work on this pass rush move.’ I always try to keep that in the back of my mind and leave my own teach tape.
Question: If you get a sack on Saturday do you have a celebration planned?
Answer: I’m going to point to my parents. It’s my last time I get to see them in the stands, so I’m definitely going to point to my parents and my family out there. It will probably be a little emotional moment. I’ll probably get happy, I’m not going to cry or nothing like that.