INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Colt Lyerla came to the NFL scouting combine with more to prove than just about anyone else.
Not on the field, off of it.
Two months after the former Oregon tight end pleaded guilty to
cocaine possession, he was answering questions in Indianapolis about why
his life went astray and trying to convince league scouts that his
troubled days are over.
"I'd say that I've put myself in a position where my back's against
the wall, to a point that if I don't do everything perfect and the right
way, that I won't be able to play football, let alone be successful in
any shape or form," Lyerla told reporters with a stone-faced expression.
Convincing coaches and team officials that he's changed may be the
most important part of the draft process for Lyerla, and history shows
the wrong answers could seriously damage his pro prospects.
Teams routinely claim they remove college players from their draft
boards for serious character flaws. It came up again after former
Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested last summer.
Da'Rick Rogers showed up at last year's combine with the size and
stats scouts covet. But after admitting he was booted off the team at
Tennessee because of multiple failed drug tests, Rogers wound up signing
with Buffalo as an undrafted rookie, and then was cut and landed on the
Colts' practice squad before finally making an active roster.
Now it's Lyerla's turn. While he measured in at 6-foot-4, 242 pounds
and turned in an impressive time of 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash,
Lyerla must now show he's a different guy than the one some have branded
as overly emotional and prone to outbursts.
It matters to teams, which have spent lots of time and money delving
into player backgrounds, so they know what they're really getting on
"We tended to separate the stories from the facts. I think that's
important for readers and spectators and fans to recognize -- what may
be a hot media story may not be an issue to the teams," longtime NFL
executive Bill Polian said. "When we found out what happened with Manti
Te'o, it was no longer an issue."
This year's biggest question marks include players who were suspended
by coaches for Twitter posts, players who publicly castigated fans,
drug-related suspensions, arrests, one player who punched a teammate,
and one accused of helping to cover-up an alleged rape after the fact.
How players and agents handle the weekend's questions depends on the strategy -- and the nature of the issue.
George Atkinson, a running back who was suspended for Notre Dame's
bowl game, and Lyerla walked into the media room and responded to the
more difficult questions with blunt answers.
Lyerla told reporters the key to staying on track was avoiding people
who could be bad influences. Atkinson said he was "stupid" for
continuing a phone conversation during a team meal even after coach
Brian Kelly asked him to end the call.
Linebacker Max Bullough, the former Michigan State star, showed up
but repeatedly refused to answer questions about his Rose Bowl
suspension, choosing instead to say NFL teams already knew the answer.
Former Vanderbilt receiver Chris Boyd, who was kicked off the team
for his alleged role in the cover-up, didn't show up in the media room.
And after Walter Powell acknowledged teams were asking about his
reported October arrest for fourth-degree assault and unlawful theft,
charges that were later dropped when a grand jury failed to indict, the
Murray State receiver was asked what he had learned from the situation.
"I just learned to overcome adversity, and also just pick women right," he said.
The issue of drug use is becoming more complicated in light of states
like Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana and others
considering or already legalizing medical marijuana.
So will it hurt former University of Miami offensive lineman Seantrel
Henderson now that he's acknowledged his college suspensions were
related to marijuana use? Perhaps.
"I will say this, there has been a tendency in the public mind to
look upon marijuana more leniently. I'm not sure that's true of clubs,"
said Polian, now an ESPN analyst. "My experience with people is that the
performance of those who use marijuana on a regular basis, as reported
on verified official tests, has not been good. In fact, it's been
abysmal. So I haven't bought into the fact that it's harmless."
Lyerla insists that after meeting with his family, serving one night
in jail, nine more days on a road crew and pondering a life without
football, he's cleaned up and removed the bad influences from his life.
All he has to do now is prove it.
"As much as I hate to say it, I think some of the mishaps that
happened and me getting in trouble probably is the best thing that's
happened to me," he said. "I think the biggest thing for me is just to
be honest and to show remorse, where remorse is due, and just do my best
to prove that I've changed and I'm changing and I've matured since I
made those mistakes."