Colt Lyerla: I'm Playing Tight End... And?

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Colt Lyerla: I'm Playing Tight End... And?

By CSNNW.com Staff:

In a one on one interview, Dwight Jaynes talks with Oregon Tight End Colt Lyerla. This season, the Ducks have been graced with an extra threat at running back, the bruising tight end. But are there any special plans in the Oregon playbook for the Fiesta Bowl? Dwight digs in:

Oregon Spring game: Herbert and Team Free win 34-11

Oregon Spring game: Herbert and Team Free win 34-11

 

Team Free 34, Team Brave 11

How Team Free won: For starters, Team Free had quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for touchdown passes to lead his team to the win Saturay at Autzen Stadium. 

While it's unfair to judge a quarterback competition based on a spring game, the fact is that the sophomore, who started seven games last season, appeared to be vastly superior to Team Brave's quarterbacks, redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen and freshman Braxton Burmeister. 

Herbert threw two touchdowns in the first half. The first went for 13 yards on a throw to senior receiver Darren Carrington II that ended a 75-yard opening drive for Team Free. 

In the second quarter, Herbert found Carrington for a 30-yard touchdown to make the score 14-3. 

On the other side, Jonsen had a couple of highlight plays in the first half. He escaped pressure and then flipped a pass into the left flat to redshirt junior running back Tony Brooks-James for a gain of 19 to the Team Brave 47. Later, Jonsen threw deep down the left sideline to sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell for 44 yards to the Team Free 30. That set up 36-yard field goal from redshirt freshman kicker Zach Emerson.

But other than that, Jonsen wasn't very impressive. He misfired on a couple of passes and had a deep ball intercepted when Team Free senior cornerback Arrion Springs snatched the ball out of the sky and fell to the ground at the 16. 

Burmeister flashed some serious running skills and certainly has a quality arm, but he also looked like a freshman. In the first half, he threw too early on a pass to senior receiver Charles Nelson, the pass was tipped and intercepted by freshman defensive back Billy Gibson.  

By halftime, Herbert was 12 of 20 for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Jonsen was 5 of 12 for 86 yards with one interception. Burmeister was 1 of 4 for 24 yards and was sacked three times. 

The game was limited to 24 minutes of running clock in the second half. 

Top performers: Team Brave running back Tony Brook-James gained 71 yards on 18 carries in the first half but was banged up on a pass play when Burmeister hung him out do dry on a deep ball and Springs hit him as the ball arrived. 

Brooks-James returned to action and in the fourth quarter scored on a one-yard run. 

Freshman wide receiver Darrian McNeal caught three passes for 47 yards for Team Free in the first half.

Punter Blake Maimonte averaged 45.2 yards on four punts in the first half with a long of 49. 

Mitchell had three receptions for 75 yards for Team Brave in the first half. 

Carrington had three touchdown receptions. 

Plays of the game: Senior running back Kani Benoit took a hand off in the third quarter, cut left to open field then turned it up before crossing at an angle back across the field to finish off a 95-yard socring run for Team Free to make the score 28-3. 

In the fourth quarter, Herbert heaved a deep pass down the right sideline toward a well-covered Carrington. But he leaped over the defender to haul in the pass for a 44-yard gain to the 17-yard line. 

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 5 - Coaching staff's "juice."

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 5 - Coaching staff's "juice."

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 5: The coaching staff's "juice."

Oregon coach Willie Taggart requires his assistant coaches to bring "juice" to the party. 

Translation: Coach with infectious enthusiasm that energizes and inspires the players to want to get better. 

Practices are filled with dozens of moments of coaches reacting excitedly to great plays and strong effort put forth by efforts. 

They aggressively pat guys on the helmet, give them shoves, jump around like little kids and scream and yell with words of encouragement and affirmation for a job well done. 

The "juice."

"We'll always have fun," Taggart said. "It's football. We've got to have fun doing it. It's work, too. We're going to work. We're going to challenge our guys. We're going to coach aggressively. But we're going to have fun while we're doing it. I don't like being boring. We're going to have fun while we're doing this. I think sometimes we take it too seriously where we don't go out and have fun."

The coaching staff is split for the spring game with half of the team coaching Team "Brave" and the other half coaching Team "Fire." Given that there should be a good crowd at Autzen Stadium, and it's the first big event for this staff at Oregon, one would assume that energy and emotion could be high. 

Expect to see a bunch of coaches being quite animated on the sidelines. 

 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen; No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.; No. 3 - Search for WR depth; No. 4 - DL Jordan Scott. 

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 4 - Nose guard Jordan Scott

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 4 - Nose guard Jordan Scott

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 4: Freshman defensive lineman Jordan Scott. 

Freshman defensive lineman Jordan Scott, out of Largo, Fla.,  dominated high school football with his size in speed. Unfortunately, he maybe had a bit too much size, weighing in north of 350 pounds. 

Clearly a project, Scott originally committed to Florida before decommitting last November. Although, some say the Gators had cooled on Scott, anyway. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart, on the other hand, was more than warm on Scott. He offered him soon after becoming Oregon's head coach in December and Scott accepted. He enrolled early and has made quite the impression during spring drills. 

He's leaned out a tad to a listed weight of 335 pounds. That has allowed him to become even quicker. 

Just ask UO center Jake Hanson. According to the redshirt sophomore, Scott's weight and speed at 6-foot-1 makes him tough to deal with. 

"He's just a load," Hanson said. "He's really hard to move. I love going against him at practice because he makes me a better player. He forces me to play with power and great pad level. Because if I don't, you can't move the dude...He definitely has great upside...He is going to be a key contributor for us this year. He has the potential to be a really great player for us in the future."

Scott has a chance to push for playing time at the nose guard position in Oregon's 3-4 defense. As a member of Team "Brave," look for him to plug some holes against Team "Free" today. 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen; No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.; No. 3 - Search for WR depth

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 3 - Finding WR depth

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 3 - Finding WR depth

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 3: Oregon searches for wide receiver depth. 

We know senior wide receiver Darren Carrington II has elite talent. We know that senior Charles Nelson makes defenders look silly in the open field.

We also know that beyond those two we know very little about the rest of the crew.

Wide receiver is a legitimate area of concern for the 2017 Oregon Ducks. It's not an area worth panicking over, however. Not yet, at least. The Ducks have been in worse situations on paper like in 2014 when the top returning receiver was Keanon Lowe at 233 receiving yards the previous year and No. 1-wide receiver Bralon Addison was out for the season with a knee injury.

That potential problem worked out just fine with quarterback Marcus Mariota winning the Heisman Trophy by throwing to previously unproven targets, Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford, Lowe, Carrington and Nelson.

Three short years later and only Nelson and Carrington remain leaving the Ducks to search for their next batch of elite pass catchers. Oregon hopes they are already on the roster. 

Sophomore Dillon Mitchell, who scored two touchdowns in last year's spring game, is a potential star loaded with talent. Redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile, injured all spring, was a recent four-star recruit. But he is out with a foot injury. 

Then there are the serious wild cards. Freshman Darrian McNeal, a three-star recruit who enrolled early enough to be on hand for spring drills, has the open-field moves of Nelson minus the elite speed. Malik Lovette, a converted defensive back, has also shown positive signs during spring. 

"He's done some nice things for us," Taggart said of Lovette. 

Lovette actually went to Oregon as a receiver in 2015 before switching to cornerback during fall camp. He ultimately redshirted before entering the 2016 season as a potential contributor. That didn't quite pan out and Lovette now finds himself back on offense, where the Ducks certainly need receiver depth. 

Oregon will also welcome in a handful of freshmen receivers in the fall. 

But it's safe to say that Taggart would like to see a couple of the young guys show something on Saturday. Then again, that can always be taken with a grain of salt. As previously stated, Mitchell scored on two spectacular touchdown grabs during last year's spring game but did virtually nothing during the regular season. 

Still, a few flashes of potential from the youngsters would be better than none at all. 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen; No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr. 

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 2: It's time to see what the hype surrounding freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. is all about. 

Oregon freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. seemingly has adjusted well to college football, at least as far as practices go. 

The 2017 recruit, rated as the No. 12 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com, enrolled at Oregon early enough to participate in spring drills and immediately began turning heads.  

Oregon coach Willie Taggart has raved about Graham's ability to make plays and his love for the game. Junior cornerback Ugo Amadi said Graham reminded him of when he burst onto the scene as a highly-touted freshman in 2015. Senior cornerback Arrion Springs said Graham has been tremendous and is certainly better than he was as a freshman. 

Then there were these comments from senior safety/cornerback Tyree Robinson: "Thomas Graham has set himself apart form everyone else so far. He's just a competitor. Just from day one, he hasn't backed down from anybody. We just love that toughness."

We've been down this road before, however, with Oregon defensive backs. Early hype, then reality sets in. It's probably best to let Graham fly under the radar for a bit, especially in the Pac-12, typically loaded with strong passing teams. 

But while it might be wise to temper expectations for the young cornerback, it could still be fascinating to see glimpses of what his teammates and coaches have been raving about. 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is the start of five reasons why you should care. 

No. 1: This is quarterback Travis Jonsen's chance to show what he's really about. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart has insisted that a quarterback competition exists. 

Redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen insists he is a different player than the one who fell from No. 2 to No. 4 last fall. 

If both opinions are true, let's see some fireworks on Saturday, Mr. Jonsen. 

In all fairness, this is about the time when he should be coming into his own. Seeking instant success often leads to unnecessary disappointment for players such as Jonsen, who went to Oregon in 2015 as the No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation.

Jonsen, who will start Saturday at quarterback for Team "Brave," redshirted in 2015 and didn't play at all last year. No shame in any of that.

Now, finishing up his third spring at Oregon with two falls behind him, Jonsen is older, wiser and more mature. He also remains quite talented. 

The problem for Jonsen is that while he was maturing, the Ducks seemingly landed another quarterback savant just two seasons after watching Marcus Mariota, the greatest player in program history, ride off into the sunset with a Heisman Trophy. Sophomore Justin Herbert rose from unheralded recruit to starter last year as a true freshman and then passed for 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions over seven starts. 

Herbert is a big obstacle between Jonsen and becoming Oregon's starter. So much so that Terry Wilson Jr., last year's No. 3 quarterback as a true freshman, decided to transfer this spring. 

Jonsen is in a very awkward position. He could end up becoming a really good quarterback but never become UO's starter unless Herbert goes to the NFL after his junior season leaving Jonsen as the starter in 2020 as a redshirt senior.

Or, Jonsen must beat out Herbert now and take over the offense.

That scenario remains a possibility, according to Taggart, who ultimately has the only opinion that matters. 

But for public consumption, it would be nice to see Jonsen on Saturday play like a quarterback capable of pushing Herbert.

On a side note, we will also get to see freshman Braxton Burmeister in action. The 2017 4-star recruit who enrolled early, is the backup to Jonsen on Team "Brave," and will surely see some action. 

Herbert is quarterbacking Team Fire. 

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert goes all Joe Namath before spring game

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert goes all Joe Namath before spring game

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert laid down a bit of a prediction for the Ducks' spring game, which will be played at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.   

Herbert, who went No. 1 overall to Team Free in the spring game draft, dropped a few names of players on his team. They include senior wide receiver Darren Carrington II and senior running back Royce Freeman. Essentially, the Ducks' best three offensive weapons from last season are on the same team.

Team Fire should score plenty of points. But will it win the game?

"Yeah," Herbert said while barely cracking a smile. "We'll win."

Team Fire is being coached by special teams coordinator Raymond Woodie while safeties coach Keith Heyward will head Team Brave, to be quarterbacked by redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart said he likes to see the players get a little trash talk rolling but also wants them to focus on the main goal of the game. 

"Once everything happened and the teams were picked, you start to hear guys talking a little bit of trash about the game and what they're going to do," Taggart said. "You hear coaches talking a little trash. It's all fun and dandy but we also want to get better."

Taggart said he hopes to see a lot of plays being made by his young team after four weeks of installing a new offense and a new defense. He also wants to see which players will rise to the occasion in a game atmosphere. 

"I'm excited to see our team go out and actually play in front of people," Taggart said. "I've always said, 'the spotlight does strange things to some people.'  Some people show up and show out. Some people hide. We want those guys that are going to show up and show out. The guys that are going to hide, we probably need them to stay in the locker room."

Herbert, the odds-on favorite to be the starter next season, said he likes how the team has progressed during spring drills, especially after everyone became more comfortable within Taggart's offense. 

"I thought we did a lot of good stuff near the end," he said. "I think we started slow."

As for the game, Taggart recognized that Team Fire might appear to be a bit loaded. But, he added that he doesn't believe that means they are going to win. 

"(Fire's roster) looks stacked but the best team usually wins, not the best players," Taggart said. 

 

Altman and Oregon face major rebuild after mass exodus of talent

Altman and Oregon face major rebuild after mass exodus of talent

The Oregon basketball team won't sink to the bottom of the Pac-12 standings next season. Not even after losing seven of their best nine players from this year's Final Four team. UO coach Dana Altman is too good of a strategist and leader for that to happen, and he will have some promising, but young talent to work with. 

But the Ducks are virtually assured of taking a major step backward from what was a two-year run of excellence the program hadn't experienced in the modern era. Any chance of replicating the Final Four run from last season or the march to the Elite Eight the season before went out of the door with the departures of junior forwards, Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks, and sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, all of whom decided to venture into NBA waters.

Few programs in the nation could recover from losing that much talent and still remain a national title contender. Then factor in the losses of senior forward Chris Boucher and senior guard Dylan Ennis, plus junior guard Casey Benson, who elected to transfer, and the likely loss of junior big man Kavell Bigby-Williams, who has requested and received the freedom to seek a new program for his services. 

Add all of that up and you have a program in major flux. 

“It’s been a crazy two weeks,” Altman said today during a press conference at Matthew Knight Arena. “But those guys, I really feel good for all of them...I sure hope it works out for all of them."

But will all of this work out for Oregon? Probably. In due time.  Providing Altman can, or has, acquired pieces that will be around long enough for him to mold into another wrecking machine. 

Recruiting hasn't and shouldn't be a problem. 

“You go to a Final Four and everybody at least picks up the phone,” Altman said.

Altman said the departure of Brooks and Dorsey was expected. Both tested entered the NBA Draft process following the 2015-16 season before each elected to return to UO. That they at least had one door out of the door last season, Altman said, made it clear that the duo would likely depart this spring. 

“It was pretty obvious that if they had a nice year they were going to leave,” Altman said.

Bell's future remained unclear to Altman until the shot-blocking menace put forth several dominant performances during the postseason, thus raising his stock on some online mock drafts from middle of the second round to the latter part of the first.

“You play that well for so many games, late, I can’t blame him [for leaving],” Altman said.

Bigby-Williams didn't play much in his first season at UO, while Benson, Altman said, didn't easily accept losing his starting job to freshman point guard Payton Pritchard. 

Speaking of Pritchard, he will now take over as the leader of a team that will experience a heavy youth movement.

“We’re going to be younger next year than we’ve been in awhile, which is kind of exciting from a coaching standpoint,” Altman said.

So what will the team look like next season? Not too bad, providing some unproven talent blossoms as both players and leaders, something last season's team did not lack.

"Somebody will establish himself [as a leader]," Altman said. "It might take awhile. I think the leadership qualities come out of necessity, sometimes.”

Altman pointed to the winning past of his recruits. He said he tries to sign players that won in high school. Few high school basketball players have ever won as much as Pritchard, who led West Linn High School to four 6A state titles. 

Pritchard will be the lone regular returning player next season and will have a chance to put his stamp on the program. He also could receive some help from a graduate transfer, or two. Altman has been the master of finding veteran players from across the country and getting great success out of them for one or two years.

Mike Moser, Jason Calliste, Joseph Young and Dylan Ennis were all fabulous for the Ducks. 

“We have done very well with grad transfers,” Altman said.

Oregon is reportedly in the running for New Mexico guard Elijah Brown, who averaged 18.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season. He would certainly give the Ducks a proven collegiate scorer to work with, something the roster lacks at the moment. 

Here is a look at what all the Ducks could look like next season:

Guards: Pritchard, a fierce scorer while dominating Oregon high school basketball at West Linn, will now have much more freedom on offense. Starting in the backcourt with him could be 6-foot-6 freshman Troy Brown, a five-star recruit out of Las Vegas, Nev., who is rated as the No. 12 player in the nation and projected by some to be an NBA first-round pick next spring. Four-star recruit Victor Bailey (Round Rock, Texas) could also be in the mix as a freshman.  That's a lot of youth in the backcourt. 

The addition of Elijah Brown would balance out this group with a veteran presence who can fill it up. 

Forwards: Sophomore Keith Smith, a four-star recruit last year, played a bit here and there during last season and will be the front-runner to start next season. The Ducks will also need production from 6-10 M.J. Cage, another four-star recruit from last year, and transfer Paul White from Georgetown.

White is a major wild card. Rivals.com ranked White as the 50th best player in the nation in 2014. The 6-foot-9 White played a lot as a freshman with the Hoyas, averaging 5.0 points per game, but missed most of the following season after undergoing abdominal surgery. He sat out last season and will be a junior next fall.

Cage redshirted due to injury but is expected to provide size in side next season. 

“Both will give us some minutes next year,” Altman said of Cage and White.

Small forward recruit, Abu Kigab (Napa, Calif.) could also see time in a thin frontcourt. 

Senior Roman Sorkin will be the most experienced big man back and at the very least will provide veteran depth. 

On Monday, the Ducks received a commitment from three-star forward Kenny Wooten, adding to their 2017 recruiting haul. 

The Ducks are reportedly still in the mix to land 6-10, five-star center Brandon McCoy, rated as the No. 11 player in the nation.  

Should the Ducks land McCoy, the frontcourt would take on a whole new look, but still would be too young to be considered one that would push the Ducks deep into the NCAA Tournament. 

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All told, Oregon next season will have at least six players who were four-star recruits and one five-star recruit in Brown. That's not a bad collection of talent for Altman to mold. But it will be a group of freshmen and sophomores, other than White. 

It's the type of group that Altman could have ready for greatness by 2020, providing nearly everyone sticks around for more than a year. 

That said, Altman isn't done recruiting. He could land another freshman, such as McCoy, and get Brown to transfer in along with another strong veteran. 

“We’ve got a lot more playing time to sell,” Altman said.

Sad, true. Altman also can sell the program's recent successes and reason to believe the future could be just as bright. 

Jim Leavitt pleased with progress of Oregon's defense

Jim Leavitt pleased with progress of Oregon's defense

Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is as bubbly as ever. Even after three weeks this spring of coaching what was one of the worst defenses in the nation last season hasn't appeared to kill his buzz.

Maybe it's the soft drinks he consumes early in the morning. Or, maybe it's because he has taken on reclamation projects before and says he is pleased with what he's seen from the Ducks so far during this latest endeavor. According to Leavitt, UO's defense is getting better each day, grasping fundamentals and progressing. While he admits that is all coach speak, he also stated that at the end of the day, all spring ball is about is making daily progress. 

“It’s not all about winning the spring, to me, it’s about winning in the fall," he said following Friday's practice. "So we’re looking at the big picture on everything. I’m proud of the guys. I think they are working very, very hard.”

Oregon's spring game will be held at 11:30 a.m., April 29 at Autzen Stadium. 

Oregon ranked 128th in the nation in total defense last season while allowing 41.5 points per game. At Leavitt's previous job, he took over a Colorado team that had allowed 39 points per game the year before his arrival in 2015. Leavitt coached up that defense to the point where it allowed just 27.5 points per game in 2015 and then 21.7 last year. 

Now he's trying to do the same at Oregon, which is paying him $1.1 million per season to build a dominant defense. Leavitt said that moving form being the linebackers coach with the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 to coaching at Colorado led him to enter this job with higher expectations. The move from the 49ers to Colorado involved steps to figure out what to use and what not to use at the college level.  Figuring that out may have slowed down the rebuilding process a tad at Colorado. Having gone through that before, he said, should lead to a smoother rebuild this time around.  

“We’ve pushed a lot more on them then I ever did at the last job,” Leavitt said. “I think they’ve handled it fairly well. They’ll drive me nuts at times, but that’s just because the expectations are very, very high. We want to knock that ceiling out.”

Should that happen next season, Leavitt would have to be considered a miracle worker.  It's going to take time for the defense to get to where Leavitt wants it to be. But he's not necessarily in a rush. 

“What’s really important is that you don’t’ want guys to be thinking about a scrimmage tomorrow or a spring game,” Leavitt said. “You want them thinking about today.”