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A Pharaoh Tries To Win Oregon TE Battle

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Oregon's Johnny Mundt is one of three returning tight ends who saw the field extensively in 2013. It may be one of Oregon's quieter position battles this spring, but shapes up as an important one give the wide receiver losses. Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images.
Oregon's Johnny Mundt is one of three returning tight ends who saw the field extensively in 2013. It may be one of Oregon's quieter position battles this spring, but shapes up as an important one give the wide receiver losses. Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images.

A year ago, the Oregon Ducks entered the spring with an NFL-type tight end in Colt Lyerla. He was the start and end of the position, considered one of the better tight end prospects in the nation heading into the 2013 season.

Boy, that didn't work out so well, did it? 

Lyerla didn't make it out of the first month of the season, got in trouble with the law and eventually made himself available for the NFL Draft. Now, the Ducks are in the midst of figuring out just who, or how many, will plug into the tight end spot. Fortunately, Lyerla's meltdown opened the door for a trio of youngsters to find the field in 2014. And all three are back looking for more this spring.

Lyerla seemed to be a known quantity a year ago. The trio of Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis offer plenty of potential, but nearly as many questions. Spring practice is the starting point for discovering if one will emerge from the pack or if the tight end position will become a co-op as coaches fit players into needs and wants. With the receiver position in a bit of flux, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and quarterback Marcus Mariota may look to the tight ends more, particularly early in the season. 

Mundt was the first to benefit from Lyerla's loss a year ago. As a true freshman and in his first start, the 6-foot-4, 232-pounder burst on the scene with a five-catch 121-yard, two-touchdown game against Tennessee — the best performance by a Ducks tight end since 2009. He finished the season with 16 catches for 281 yards and three scores, but tailed off markedly in the season's last half. 

That opened the door to Brown, a 6-foot-6, 242-pound bundle of potential. Brown turned heads last spring and early in fall camp, but picked up a lower leg injury and struggled to get out of the gate. He played in nine games, collecting 10 catches for 123 yards and two scores down the stretch. Brown may be the most intriguing prospect given his size and athleticism. Even before Lyerla was self-destructing, Brown was raising eyebrows as a potential NFL-type playmaker at tight end.

While Mundt got off to a fast start and Brown took a while to get rolling, Baylis, a redshirt sophomore, came into his own the latter part of the season. He's got the size (6-6, 238) and also overcame a fall camp injury to start the Civil War game against Oregon State. Compared to the other two combatants, Baylis' stats aren't too impressive (4-71-0), but he's a player that kept coming on as the season wore one, eventually culminating in a start against the team's arch-rival.

So what do the Ducks have at tight end? Oregon coaches will look for a definitive answer as spring practice rolls along. All three have quality playing time to draw on from the 2013 season and all three have shown they are capable of holding down the starting gig — at times. 

Brown has the physical ability to be an elite tight end at the college level and what many consider a higher ceiling than Lyerla brought to the table. He'll need to demonstrate that he can stay healthy as a consistent offensive presence and big-play receiver. He also must demonstrate good judgment on the heels of some questionable decision-making over the winter during a snowball fight on campus that led to Helfrich suspending him for the Alamo Bowl.

Mundt broke from the gate like a thoroughbred, but as with most true freshman, found the rigors of big-time college football draining and struggled down the stretch. Baylis just doesn't go away, continually improving and looking like a guy who can contribute when called upon.

As spring practice finishes its first week, Mundt is listed as the starter, with Brown second, but Baylis was running with the first unit often in the first three workouts.

Best-Case Scenario

Brown fulfills his promise, locks down the starting spot, stretches defenses down the seams and hurts teams in the end zone. Mundt continues to build on the potential demonstrated in the Tennessee game, while Baylis offers 'steady-Eddie' type play that will get him on the field in case of injury or poor play.