Ducks rolling with changes this season

No. 2 Oregon has faced a few issues, but keeps winning



Oregon’s season has come with a few speed bumps, but the No. 2 Ducks have managed just fine.

Star running back De’Anthony Thomas sprained his ankle.

Tight end Colt Lyerla is gone, although his departure is not expected to have much impact.

Next up for No. 2 Oregon (5-0, 2-0 Pacific-12 Conference) is Saturday’s game at rival No. 16 Washington (4-1, 1-1).

Lyerla left the team Sunday, a day after he missed the No. 2 Ducks’ 57-16 victory at Colorado because of a one-game suspension. The junior, who had a rocky history in Eugene, wants to pursue an NFL career.

“If he felt this was best for him. That’s OK. We talked about it and we moved on,” coach Mark Helfrich said. “We wished him absolutely nothing but the best, and he wished us nothing but the best. There was no ‘smoking gun,’ so to speak.”

Besides, the Ducks lost Lyerla to illness this season against Tennessee, and backup Johnny Mundt stepped in with five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s 59-14 win.

Additionally, sophomore tight end Pharaoh Brown appears to have returned to full strength in the last two games after a leg injury slowed him to start the season.

Lyerla did not travel to Boulder on Saturday. Afterward, Helfrich confirmed he had been suspended for the game because of an unspecified violation of team rules.

It was latest in a string of issues for the tight end. When he was ill and missed the Tennessee game, Lyerla questioned Helfrich’s use of the word “circumstances” to characterize his absence, suggesting the description raised questions. As a policy, Oregon does not discuss injuries or illness.

Later, Lyerla apologized for airing his frustrations publicly.

Lyerla also missed the first several days of fall camp his sophomore year for personal reasons. On Monday, when the initial surprise had worn off, Lyerla posted to Twitter: “STILL LOVE ALL MY TEAMMATES (hash)blood.”

Said Helfrich: “I think we’ve moved on. We’ve turned the page. I would love to talk about Washington or our preparations. It’s not about any single one of us, myself included.”

As for Thomas, he has missed most of the past two games because of an ankle injury. The dynamic running back sprained his right ankle on the opening kickoff of Oregon’s 55-16 victory over California. He returned the kickoff 27 yards but slipped on the wet turf.

Thomas, who led the Ducks’ ground attack with 338 yards and six touchdowns this season, wore a boot all last week and then on the sidelines against Colorado. But this week the boot was off and Thomas was not limping. Oregon would not give his status for the game against the Huskies.

Oregon’s rush didn’t miss a beat without him. Against California, Byron Marshall ran for 130 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 122 more yards against the Buffaloes, bringing his total to 448 yards and four touchdowns this season.

“It’s scary to think about how good we are when we’re all healthy,” Brown said.