GREEN BAY — Watching Colt Lyerla glide around the practice field, you can see why the Green Bay Packers took a chance on the troubled rookie from Oregon.

“He looks pretty fluid out there,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “He can move for a tight end.”

Indeed, he can. When the 2014 Packers practiced in public for the first time Thursday, Lyerla drew the loudest cheer at Ray Nitschke Field when he reached high to haul in an overthrown pass.

Then again, talent was never an issue for the 21-year-old Lyerla. Character was. And is.

Questions about a checkered past that includes a cocaine arrest, incomprehensible tweets about the horrific school shooting in Connecticut, and his abrupt, unexplained departure from Oregon in October led to Lyerla — widely considered a second- or third-round talent — to go undrafted by the 32 NFL teams earlier this month. Not only that, no team was willing to sign him in the ensuing free agent frenzy.

The Packers were one of the few that would even bring Lyerla in for a tryout, but they liked what they saw and signed him to a contract. Because coach Mike McCarthy takes great pride in developing a strong, stable locker room, that raised some major red flags. Some wondered if the Packers were so desperate at tight end that they were willing to turn their locker room into a halfway house.

This, however, is a gamble worth taking. Bringing in Lyerla is a low-risk venture that could pay off big — for the Packers on the field and for Lyerla personally.

On Thursday, McCarthy, the Packers veterans and Lyerla himself all seemed committed to making that happen.

“Personally, I’m excited about having Colt here,” McCarthy said. “You look at our history — this will be our ninth season as far as the program that we’ve established — everybody is excited about helping a young man that’s been through what he’s been through. Forget about the football part of it. We haven’t really participated in this type of situation in the past. Colt just needs to be like everyone else. But I know people like (director of security) Doug Collins, (director of player development) Rob Davis, we’re excited to impact this young man’s life. Everything else will take care of itself professionally.”

Some might consider that organizational arrogance, but the players are on board as well. They insist Green Bay will provide the type of family environment and support system that can help Lyerla overcome a difficult upbringing and the embarrassment of hitting what he called a “low point” in his life following his departure from Oregon.

“Obviously, we see that he has the ability,” Williams said. “He’s in Green Bay and I said to myself, ‘This is the perfect spot for him to be.’ Obviously, (general manager) Ted (Thompson) likes to give guys a second chance, and I always commend that. Sometimes it’s not just about the game of football. This opportunity can truly change this guy’s life. For the Packers to show that dedication and put that type of trust in a guy who’s had a bleak past, it says a lot about this organization.”

For his part, Lyerla sounded like he intends to make the most of that second chance. He was outwardly contrite when speaking with reporters, admitting it had crossed his mind he might never get a chance in the NFL due to the baggage — largely his own — he was lugging around. He said he couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity than this one given everything that has happened to him.

“I feel like I have a new home,” Lyerla said. “I was kind of lost for a little while, but being here and being accepted here is truly great.”

From the cheers he got on the practice field to the praise he got in the locker room, others feel the same way. The Ryan Braun episode has shown that Wisconsin can be a very forgiving place, and since most of Lyerla’s wounds have been self-inflicted, his fate in Green Bay will be determined by his future behavior, not his past actions.

“I’ve spent the last six, seven months doing hard thinking and making changes and doing the right things,” he said. “I think me being here today shows that I am moving in the right direction.”

That’s not just lip-service, either. On Wednesday, Lyerla asked quarterback Scott Tolzien to stick around after practice and throw to him, something any coach likes to see.

“The guy I have watched play football is a kid that’s explosive and can be a difference-maker when he gets his hands on the ball,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “And in meeting him, he’s a very good kid. He’s not real outspoken. He seems to be a little on the quiet side, personality-wise. But in all of my dealings with him, obviously he knows that his past has brought him to where he is today. He’s very aware of the mistakes that he’s made, and hopefully he can stay on the right track and help us be a good football team.”

With little invested in Lyerla and the ability to dump him at any time, that’s a chance the Packers are — and should be — willing to take.

Contact Tom Oates

at toates@madison.com

or 608-252-6172.

Sports Columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal

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(15) comments

Maui Jim
Maui Jim

Some people don 't get many chances in life, I hope this young man takes full advantage of the opportunity given him .

Booke
Booke

"The parents of the kids that supposedly died in the Sandy Hook situation are liars", "Cocaine is a hell of a drug", kicked off of a team that tolerates pretty much everything. Stay classy Green Bay!!

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

I hope the Pack gets him hooked up with Johnny Jolly with the general advice "Here's a guy who screwed up way worse than you. Listen to him."

Booke
Booke

Hey crow bar!!! Wipe the smile off of your face... See how easy it is to rile up the cheddarheads!!! Funny

Arturo
Arturo

Says the guy who takes the time to make some uninformed comment on every article involving his superior rivals. Yes, very funny Booke, you genius. Stay classy. Trolling is fun.....if you're 13. Let us know when you and crow support a team that is relevant, until then please continue to show your jealousy and ignorance. Seems to me the word "Packers" gets you and crows panties in a wad. Who's laughing now, clown? Enjoy the view.

Crow Barr
Crow Barr

Art, pretty up tight there, "Packers" the mascot is ??? Brings to mind two guys, panties, enjoy the view!

Arturo
Arturo

Crow, always uninformed. Mascot? No mascot, no cheerleaders, just rings and real football for real fans. You are a 12 year old girl, I knew it. Took your name after your favorite "hang" out in Chicago too, classy. How much of your free time is spent commenting on articles that have nothing to do with your team? Yep, in an uptight wad. You see the word Packers and it sends you into a fury of childish jealousy, how frickin' sad for you. Of course, when your team is as irrelevant as your life....carry on, continue to play the clown.

Cornelius_Gotchberg
Cornelius_Gotchberg

@Arturo (below);

Nothing about @Crow Barr's cats!

reeeaaaaarrr

Raaarrrrrr

Roooooooeeeeooowww

Phhhhhtttt

Rar!

The Gotch

Crow Barr
Crow Barr

Gotch and Arto below, packies 7 and 9 at the end of 7 months time!

You read it here!

adamman
adamman

This kid is only 21 yrs old. He's made some dumb mistakes, but he will mature in the Green Bay culture. Remember Darren Sharper? He towed the line in Green Day. Self destructed after he left.
Ted Thompson wouldn't have brought Lyeria in if he hadn't done his due diligence on this kid.
Being in Green Bay for Lyeria will be like going to AA/NA.
Also, I guarantee GB has a support plan in place for him. J. Findley who?

Crow Barr
Crow Barr

packies will be awe-some(times) in their 7 and 9 2014 season, starting out zilch and one!

adamman
adamman

@crowbare,

Crow, you are someone Packer fans love to hate. You are so envious of the Pack. I'm writing this one down so we can stick it to U when the Pack wins the division for, (what?) the forth year in a row. Please forgive me for pointing that out. I know you choose to forget.

XLBadger
XLBadger

Crow Barr ... are you really that stupid? Like your name, you're either feathered or stiff ... maybe both, but either way, you're ignorant and insignificant ... nonetheless, I'm not sure this athlete can overcome his past, but the Packer organization (players & management) are as good as any place for him to be successful ... and, if he's successful, that he won't believe he did it alone ... as part of a "team", any individual can become greater than who he thought he was "on his own" ... this is the true potential of being a Packer ... a team ...

Norwood44
Norwood44

You have to believe in redemption. Especially with young men. Heres hoping he gets the mentoring he needs.

Cornelius_Gotchberg
Cornelius_Gotchberg

Absolutely! Low risk, high reward.

The only team that doesn't take a chance like this is a team that's happy where they are.

Like @Crow Barr's Vi_Queens.

Below the radar, just like Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State.

Keep your eye on both these pass catchers, and who's throwing to them!

The Gotch

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