Shhh...Oregon has a secret!
When you think of Oregon football, you think of a fast, no-huddle offense rife with ridiculous runs, bubble screens and deep passes that seem to catch every defense off guard.
Pro-set offense, it is not, though former Duck head coach Chip Kelly is working on changing that definition in his new gig at Philadelphia. Still, the Ducks run a spread option with emphasis on the run which isn't very close to the typical pro-set offense favored by USC or Michigan State.
Common sense dictates that the tight end isn't used much in this offense and for the most part, that would be correct—the increasing popularity of the spread has apparently reduced role of the tight end at both the college and NFL level.
The New York Times ran a report that specifically addressed the lack of quality tight ends in the 2008 NFL Draft:
“I think it’s deep,” said Scot McCloughan, the San Francisco 49ers’ general manager, of this year’s class of tight ends. “But the thing that’s unique about it is a lot of these colleges are going to those three-and four-receiver sets, spread offenses, and you’re not seeing the prototypical tight end on the line of scrimmage next to the tackle.
“You’re seeing flexed formations, and they’re more used as receivers than they are as blockers. So, you’re getting a lot more guys coming out in the draft that have production, caught a lot of passes, run a lot of routes, run after catch. You’re not getting many guys that are blockers.”
Oregon, however, does use the tight end and it is an integral part of its offense in a receiving capacity. Junior Colt Lyerla caught 25 passes for 392 yards and six touchdowns last season. More from 24/7Sports:
A true definition of a freak athlete, there is very little Lyerla can't do on the football field. Whether it's catching passes, holding the edge as a perimeter blocker, or running the football (which he did 13 times for 77 yards and one touchdown), one could argue that per touch, Lyerla is Oregon's most productive player.
The issue for the Ducks is who will back up Lyerla. Incoming freshman Johnny Mundt is 6-5, 235 pounds and a potential new weapon for Oregon. Interestingly, Mundt has almost the exact body frame as Lyerla (6-5, 238) and having that sort of big body plowing through the middle of a field (see video below) has proven to be lethal—Stanford tight end Zach Ertz (6-6, 252) caught 11 passes for 106 yards and one touchdown against the Ducks last season.
Head coach Mark Helfrich will certainly continue to incorporate the tight end in a receiving capacity and Mundt will eventually be called upon to fill that role. The Ducks' depth chart is fairly deep at tight end and due to the depth at receivers, the tight end position will still be a second option in the air.
But with all the success Stanford has had with its heavy use of tight ends—and that success includes a win over Oregon and a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl—Helfrich may ratchet up the tight end role.
If that happens, Johnny Mundt could be the Ducks' first John Mackey Award winner.