A year after he was used as a running back in a special package for the Oregon offense, there may be more in store for tight end Colt Lyerla.
Through the first week of spring drills for the Ducks, which concluded Saturday, Lyerla said he's "being moved around quite a bit" on offense, though he couldn't predict what might ultimately make the game plan come fall.
"As far as how solid that's going to be, I'm not sure," Lyerla said.
A year ago, the Hillsboro native caught 25 passes for 392 yards and six touchdowns, an average of 15.7 yards per reception that ranked sixth nationally among tight ends. Lyerla also rushed 13 times for 77 yards and a touchdown when paired with former backup quarterback Bryan Bennett, and Lyerla played on the kickoff coverage unit.
What more may be in store for Lyerla under new offensive coordinator Scott Frost, one can only wonder. Also a bit murky: Lyerla's future with the Ducks. As a junior in 2013, he'll be eligible to declare for the NFL draft come January, and no doubt would be an intriguing prospect based on his freakish blend of size and athleticism.
"It's too soon to say" whether this might be his last season in Eugene, Lyerla said Saturday. "We'd have to see how the season goes. I'm just concentrating on what I can do to get us to win the most games and have the best season."
His priority this offseason, Lyerla said, is improving his speed. He also wants to keep a lower profile on social media, after drawing criticism earlier this offseason for tweeting a link to a video suggesting the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., was related to a government conspiracy.
Lyerla then engaged in heated back-and-forth with other Twitter users about the subject, and while he later walked back some statements and apologized on that platform, his apparent support of the conspiracy theory drew criticism from some media and fans.
"Overall, I feel that I made a mistake by getting involved in such a personal matter on such a public platform," Lyerla said. "I'm apologetic to my teammates and my coaches, and the program overall for doing that.
"But on the same note, I'd never want to discourage anyone from having their own opinion and raising questions like that. But for me specifically, it was a bad idea because of the position I'm in. Like I said, I'm apologetic, and I look forward to learning from this and moving on with the season."
SATURDAY'S PRACTICE was notable in at least two respects: The Ducks had some 150 to 200 high school coaches from as far away as Minnesota, Virginia and Pennsylvania on hand for their coaches clinic, and head coach Mark Helfrich surprised the team with the first live tackling situations of the month.
Helfrich said he was looking to "jump-start practice" by going live on a few third-down plays throughout the workout, and it apparently worked.
"It was exciting, kind of got the morale up," Lyerla said. "We've been waiting longer than four days (to hit at full speed), we've been waiting since Jan. 3, so yeah, it was exciting."
The Ducks will hold a couple of competition days during the spring, and at least one full-fledged scrimmage before the spring game, Helfrich said. But he also wants to be able to control situations in which they go live — putting the offense at a particular down and distance, or the defense in a tough red-zone situation, for instance — and thus will continue to sprinkle them throughout practice, too.
"We really like how we get things situationally done, rather than, 'Hey everybody, we're scrimmaging today,' " Helfrich said. "You can kind of get a little more work. In a scrimmage, you never know how things are going to turn out. Which is good, and bad in some regards."
WHILE HELFRICH has said in general he'll maintain Chip Kelly's policy of not commenting on injuries, players and coaches have been a bit more liberal with information this spring.
Possible starting inside linebackers Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick aren't practicing, and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and a broken hand. Defensive tackle Ryan Hagen was on crutches Saturday, with a brace on his left leg.
On offense, receiver Dwayne Stanford suffered an unknown injury earlier this week. Guard Hamani Stevens said he's been sidelined by a toe injury.
Helfrich said that three players who suffered major knee injuries last fall — safety Avery Patterson, defensive lineman Jared Ebert and offensive guard Mana Greig — are participating in everything but full-contract drills, putting them on track to return in the fall.