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Disappointed Ducks move forward, minus Lyerla

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Tight end Colt Lyerla runs in an Oregon Ducks touchdown after a catch against Oregon State in the 2011 Civil War.EUGENE — From the moment he came to the University of Oregon, controversy dogged talented tight end Colt Lyerla.

Controversy won the day on Sunday, when the Ducks announced that Lyerla was leaving the football team for “personal reasons.”

On Monday, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said he talked with Lyerla before the decision was made but declined to offer any insight into what was said.

“I don’t want to get into particulars,” Helfrich said. “It was a very productive conversation. This is not an ill will situation in any way shape or form. In ANY way shape or form. We do wish him luck, and we’re going to do anything we can to continue to support him.”

Ducks tight end coach Tom Osborne did not talk with Lyerla before the decision was made. He was not surprised by it, though.

“I’m never surprised with Colt,” Osborne said, shaking his head.

It was a tumultuous season for the 6-5, 246-pound junior from Hillsboro High. Lyerla did not play in the Ducks' game against Tennessee for what Helfrich called "circumstances" (Lyerla later told media outlets that he did not play because he was ill).

Then, last week, Lyerla did not make the trip with the Ducks to face Colorado.

“He was suspended Saturday for violation of team rules,” Helfrich said.

At the beginning of the season, many predicted that Lyerla could become a first-round NFL draft pick. He was underwhelming in the games he did play this year, though. He caught just two passes for 26 yards in three games and dropped numerous balls thrown to him.

“I’ve been the coordinator here for five games and we haven’t had him at all,” offensive coordinator Scott Frost said Monday.

The performance is in stark contrast to the way Lyerla played as a true freshman and as a sophomore. In 2011, playing behind David Paulson, Lyerla caught seven passes for 147 yards and five touchdowns. In 2012, as the Ducks' starter, he caught 25 passes for 392 yards and six TDs. He also rushed 13 times for 77 yards and one TD on his way to being named honorable mention all-Pac-12.

Even when Lyerla was playing well, though, trouble was never far below the surface.

“There’s a lot of guys in this world who are a work in progress,” Helfrich said last season.

In 2012, after practicing only four times during the spring, Lyerla was not with the Ducks when they opened fall camp in August, because of what former coach Chip Kelly described as “excused personal reasons.”

Last summer, Lyerla used his Twitter account to post a link to a YouTube video suggesting that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was part of a government conspiracy against assault-weapons.

Lyerla also tweeted, “The parents of the kids that supposedly died in the Sandy Hook situation are liars.”

Lyerla later deleted his tweets and issued an apology.

Throughout his time at Oregon, Lyerla made a habit of refusing interview requests. Often, even his coaches did not quite know how to describe him as a person.

“That’s a great question,” Osborne said, when asked to describe Lyerla last season. “I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that.”

Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota said Monday that the team is disappointed that Lyerla is no longer on the roster.

“Colt is a tremendous athlete,” Mariota said. “He’s a fellow teammate, a fellow friend, and we’re all pretty disappointed with it.”

Osborne also was disappointed.

“With the amount of time you put into it and devote to guys getting better, it’s always disappointing (when a player leaves early),” Osborne said.

Said Frost: “The only disappointment I have is disappointment for Colt. I hope it works out for him. We all care for him.”

Oregon has several options to replace Lyerla, including freshman Johnny Mundt and sophomore Pharaoh Brown.

“They’re doing a good job not making a lot of mistakes, and they’re playing hard,” Osborne said, of Mundt and Brown. “Those guys have played really well the last three games. We’ll just keep working with them.”

Helfrich said that he and his coaches did not talk about Lyerla with the team.

“We didn’t talk about anything,” Helfrich said. “We’ve moved on. We’ve turned the page. It’s not about any single one of us, myself included.”

Lyerla still could be an NFL prospect next spring, when the draft rolls around. But NFL teams will have to balance the potential with the risk.

Mariota said the Ducks are all on Lyerla’s side as they move forward.

“We wish him nothing but the best,” Mariota said. “I’m sure he’ll find his way.”