Matt Mariota

Oregon TE Jacob Breeland might fulfill the promise Colt Lyerla failed to realize

Oregon TE Jacob Breeland might fulfill the promise Colt Lyerla failed to realize

EUGENE - Oregon redshirt sophomore Jacob Breeland isn't allowing an injured right hand to get in the way of playing like the team's best tight end. 

"It kind of sucks but I'm just going to go out there and do as much as I can and play," he said. 

The results have been impressive. 

"He hasn't dropped a ball," UO coach Willie Taggart said, stating that Breeland's protected hand makes it appear like he might be getting ready to participate in the upcoming bout between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. "So we might let him use that all year long out there."

Breeland's right hand has been wrapped in a cast as a precautionary measure. But the Ducks can't afford for Breeland to take time off. They need him. In a big way. Thin at wide receiver with very little tight end depth, Breeland could end up being one of the team's more vital pieces on offense this season. 

When it's all said and done, Breeland could live up to the promise once showed by former UO tight ends, Colt Lyerla and Pharaoh Brown. Lyerla could have become the greatest tight end in program history but off-the-field troubles derailed his career. Brown came close to equaling Lyerla in ability but overcame maturity issues just in time to suffer a severe leg injury in 2014 that altered his career's trajectory. 

Breeland could accomplish what both Lyerla and Brown did not. He is that guy on this roster and could become the first Oregon tight end to reach elite status since David Paulson in 2011. 

Breeland, listed at 6-foot-5, 241-pounds, matches Lyerla and Brown in size at the same age, and is only getting bigger. He isn't the athletic freak both Lyerla and Brown were but is a better overall athlete than Evan Baylis and Johnny Mundt, two quality senior tight ends who last season split time with Brown. 

Breeland has exceptional body control and natural running instincts after the catch. He also doesn't mind sticking his nose into the mix and blocking, something he will be asked to a lot of in a more physical rushing attack than Oregon has employed in previous years. 

Breeland finished the season with six receptions for 123 yards as the fourth tight end behind three seniors he said he watched and learned from. 

"They taught me a lot," Breeland said. "A lot about reading defenses...they just pushed me to be better, basically,"

Good thing, because Breeland stands as the lone tight end with any practical experience. Still, Taggart said he doesn't have much concern about the position. 

"I'm really impressed with all of our tight ends from spring to now," he said. 

The backup is redshirt freshman Cam McCormick, a three-star recruit a year ago out of Bend. Then there are sophomores Ryan Bay and Matt Mariota. 

"Are they where we need them to be? No," Taggart said. "But they are a lot better than what they were when we first started off. And to be honest with you, I feel good about putting any of those guys into the game and running our offense."

Taggart's offense will rely heavily on the tight end position, especially in the running game.

"That's one of the main things we're going to do," Breeland said. "(Taggart) said we're going to run the ball a lot so be ready to block."

Breeland said he has spent a lot of time working on reading defensive fronts, knowing who to block on certain plays and mastering his footwork and ability to gain adequate pad level on defenders. 

South Florida last season, under Taggart, saw its leading tight end - Mitch Wilcox - make just 12 receptions. Oregon's senior tight end trio last year combined for 65 receptions.  

While Breeland said he expects the overall role of the tight end to be different in this offense compared to the previous attack, he still expects to catch plenty of passes. 

"We're having some special plays for us to come open for touchdowns," Breeland said. 

Whatever the role he is asked to play, Breeland says he is ready to perform. 

"I'm going to go out there and play as hard as I can," Breeland said. "And if they are going to use me a lot then I'll be there to do my best and catch the ball if I need to, block if I need to and do it all."

He certainly is going to need to if the Ducks' offense is going to succeed. 

Oregon 2017 Outlook - TEs: Loss of three seniors opens doors

Oregon 2017 Outlook - TEs: Loss of three seniors opens doors

Oregon's worst season (4-8) since 1991 (3-8) led to a coaching change. Yet, the Ducks' cupboard is hardly bare for new coach Willie Taggart. We will take a position-by-position look at what the new coaching staff will have to work with while trying to turn things around in 2017.

Other entries: Quarterbacks; Running backs, Wide receivers, Offensive line, Defensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs

Today: Tight ends.

Key losses: Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis all exited as seniors forcing the Ducks to completely reload at this position. 

Projected 2017 starter: Jacob Breeland, RSoph., (6-5, 240). 

Key backups: Cam McCormick, RFr., (6-5, 240), Ryan Bay, RSoph., (6-4, 235). 

What we know: Not much. Breeland, a three-star recruit in 2014 (Rivals.com), caught six passes for 123 yards last season, with a long of 63 yards at Washington State. He certainly appeared to have the athleticism and skills to become an impact tight end, but he remains a mystery. 

McCormick, a three-star recruit in 2016, redshirted and is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster. 

What we don't know: Could a true freshman earn instant playing time? Quite possibly. The Ducks don't currently have a tight end committed to the 2017 class, but will have four-star prospect Josh Falo in town for a visit on Jan. 28, according to The Oregonian

As a side not, Matt Mariota, younger brother of former Oregon quarterback Matt Mariota, has moved from linebacker to tight end. 

Final word: From a receiving standpoint, Oregon should be just fine with Breeland in the lead role. Whether Oregon has a consistent run blocking tight end on the roster might be the bigger concern.  

Position grade: C-minus. There's some talent to work with but zero in the way of proven starting talent.  

Next up: Wide receivers.