The Oregon Ducks have been flying high through the first three weeks of the college football season. Their offensive attack has yet to miss a beat under new head coach Mark Helfrich as they have sprinted out to a 3-0 record and a No. 2 ranking in the polls. One member of their offense that was expected to turn in big things has been missing in action so far, however, so what exactly is wrong with Colt Lyerla?
Last season, Lyerla emerged as a dangerous weapon for Chip Kelly as the Ducks blew past their competition to a Fiesta Bowl victory. His versatility and athleticism became a valuable asset to Marcus Mariota and he was moved all over the field to take advantage of defensive mismatches. He finished the season catching 25 passes, third on the team, for 392 yards scoring six touchdowns in the process.
His play made him a favorite of NFL scouts before the season started, but so far Lyerla has struggled to find his role under Helfrich’s watch. In the first two games, Lyerla managed just two catches for 26 yards. Against the Virginia Cavaliers, he came off the field a number of times visibly upset after dropped passes or missed assignments and never seemed to get into the rhythm that the rest of the team found as they blew out UVA.
In Week 3 as Oregon welcomed the Tennessee Volunteers to Eugene, Lyerla was nowhere to be found on the sidelines of Autzen Stadium. The team didn’t disclose why he was absent from the game with Helfrich citing “Circumstances” to reporters after the game as the reason for the tight end’s absence. As it turns out, Lyerla had been fighting the flu all week and the team decided it was best to have him rest up at home after missing practice Tuesday through Thursday.
But Lyerla’s troubles may not get solved as easily as settling his stomach. According to the Oregonian, Lyerla is upset with the way Helfrich characterized his absence on Saturday by not explaining that he had been sick all week. The fiery tight end missed a number of days of practice last season for off-field issues and Lyerla felt that the way Helfrich talked about his absence would open the door for more speculation about his character as he tries to make a push for a career in the NFL.
Lyerla talking to reporters and going on record saying he’s “very upset” with his coaching staff could become a morale issue in the Oregon locker room. The Ducks have a great shot to do something special this season and getting Lyerla into the fold offensively could add another dimension to an already dangerous group. If his disgruntled act starts to become a distraction, on the other hand, it could derail everything that Oregon has going for them in 2013.
Can Lyerla fall in line and find his role in the Oregon offense or will he be a locker-room distraction for the rest of the season?