The Oregon Ducks are looking to get back on top of the Pac-12 race in 2014 as they reload on both sides of the football. Mark Helfrich has plenty to like on the offensive side of the ball with the return of Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota at quarterback and five starters across the offensive line but he will need a big season from outside linebacker Tony Washington if Oregon hopes to reclaim their dominance of the conference this fall.
Washington is one of just two players in the Pac-12 who ranked in the top 12 of sacks last season to return in 2014 and will be charged with being a leader of the Oregon defensive front. Last year, he tallied 7.5 sacks to go along with 60 tackles and 12 tackles for loss. He was a disruptive force in the backfield for the Ducks’ defense, causing four forced fumbles, as he showed an explosiveness off the edge to get to the passer on a consistent basis.
Oregon will need him to be even more explosive in 2014 if they want to make another appearance in the Pac-12 title game this season. Not only are the Ducks breaking in a new defensive coordinator in Don Pellum, they are also looking to fill some holes after losing three defensive linemen and three starters in the secondary from 2013. As they get the new guys up to speed, it will be important for leaders like Washington to step their game up and take charge of the defense.
After a strong junior season that saw Washington emerge as the best pass-rusher on the Oregon defense, the 6-foot-3, 243-pound senior is poised to break out as one of the elite pass rushers in the conference in 2014. If he lives up to that potential, Oregon will be a difficult team to beat this fall.