Willis ready to make an impact for Beavers
CORVALLIS — Jonathan Willis really doesn't care where he lines up on defense. He just wants to make an impact.
Willis has flip-flopped between inside and outside linebacker his first two seasons at Oregon State.
Last season, the Beavers needed him primarily on the inside. Now Willis is playing outside as the team prepares for its Aug. 26 opener at Colorado State.
"I feel like I fit good in both spots," Willis said. "It just depends on where the team needs me and where they need me to produce the most."
Willis had a big season statistically as a freshman out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, finishing with 67 total tackles, 3.5 for loss and two sacks. He wound up starting four games after wrecking Utah with 11 total tackles.
He went on to have eight stops against UCLA, nine at Cal, five against Washington and capped the season with 13 at Oregon.
His numbers last year were a little more limited. He had 26 total stops and just one for loss.
Willis spent the offseason working on getting better at reading offensive linemen.
"He had a whole spring which we expected him to not miss a beat from the last couple games of the season and it's carried over to camp, and he's done a nice job," OSU assistant coach Chad Kauha'aha'a said.
"We're putting him in some tough situations. We're putting him inside the tackle, outside the tackle, inside the tight end, outside the tight end. He's very stout and he's doing what we're asking him to do. So it's been a good move for him."
Willis has gotten bigger, bulking up to 235 pounds and, as a junior, a little older and closer to fitting his nickname of "Old Man."
"Going into my junior year, I feel like I'm in a good spot even with the change in positions," Willis said. "I know both positions at this point, so where I'm at now, I feel I'm doing good."
Kauha'aha'a expects Willis to help the defense in a variety of ways this season.
Willis is now big enough to be solid against the run but retains plenty of speed and quickness.
"We can put him on the edge and he can rush the passer. He's a quick, athletic, fast guy off the edge and you could say he's a natural pass rusher," Kauha'aha'a said.
Now that Willis has a lot of experience at both inside and outside linebacker, he has a much better grasp on how to use his speed effectively.
"(At) inside linebacker, I love flowing to the gaps. Outside 'backer, I love being so close to actually shoot the gap. Go right past the O-lineman," Willis said. "The thing I have to learn is when to use my speed and when I have to use my power to hold my gap, which was at the beginning the hardest part to learn, but I feel at this point I got it all down."