Coaches mentioned Lyons’ 6-7 frame as a partial explanation for the true freshman’s possible early play. His body size and wingspan make him a perfect jump-ball candidate in the end zone or a deep threat when opposing secondaries offer single coverage on the outside. NCAA Division I-A defensive backs average 5-11 to 6-0, and are approximately 15-20 pounds lighter than the 204 pound Lyons, giving the wideout and even bigger body advantage, and one that could also eventually encompass the strength match-up as well.
But it is Lyons’ downfield blocking that originally attracted West Virginia to the Woodland Hills Senior High receiver. WHSH, like most WPIAL schools, utilizes a ground-based offense that is heavy on the rush while using just two receivers. More than 60 percent of Lyons’ assignments were blocking, and the all-conference player tallied just 21 catches for 446 yards. He junior season, Lyons caught 33 passes for 600-plus yards and seven scores, and though the staff liked his hands and ability to adjust to the ball in mid-air, it was the technically-sound blocking that stood out on game tapes.
West Virginia, like Woodland Hills, is again expected to rely on the running game despite an increased emphasis on the pass. The Mountaineers rushed 625 times last season for 3,269 yards (5.2 ypc), yet threw only 193 times, completing 122 for 1,398 yards. Some of those passes – like a called double screen again Pitt which quarterback Patrick White turned into a long run that setup a score – were called but never realized. But it is snaps like this in which Lyons’ blocking, and that of the entire receiving corps, can key large gainers, which is why position coach Butch Jones works his players so hard at the aspect.
“I am used to that,” said Lyons, who brother, Devon, plays defensive back for Ohio State. “I think I need work on everything, like my blocking and definitely my routes. I want to get in there and help the team as much as I can. Whenever they need me, to be able to make those plays. Right now I just needs to keep my legs under me. We do a lot of running, basically all practice, all day. That’s the biggest thing. I did pick up a lot during the summer, which I was here for most of. I learned a lot of the offense.”
Lyons also ran routes during pitch-and-catch sessions with White. The sophomore has practiced the passing game more than any other summer, and immediately mentions the 6-7 target when discussing the passing game.
“It’s nice to have a guy like that, just to be able to throw the ball up,” White said. “I see him as a deep threat more than around the end zone, when we might run more. But if he can do both, that’s even better. He’s a great asset to have.”
The lone problem Lyons has is that he hasn’t practiced as hard as West Virginia does through his prep career. That’s not surprising, as many freshmen are adjusting to the rigor of fall camp and quickly changing drills. Add in West Virginia’s four-wide sets and no-huddle offense mixed with a need for additional wideouts, and the physical stress on the current group – also depleted with slot wideouts Jason Colson and Jeremy Bruce taking snaps at tailback – is very high and being watched like the arm soreness of Jarett Brown and Nate Sowers.
“As a receiver, you run so much that they need rest,” Lyons said. "And hitting-wise, for me, it’s all about the legs. The biggest jump was actually the summer and how hard the conditioning was. I got used to it about a week in and was fine after that. Everyday I was with (White), so we have developed a relationship a bit. He is going to make some plays.”
Lyons was also icing a sore left shoulder, and is unsure what is wrong. It has bothered him for the last two days of drills, but the trainers said it’s likely muscle soreness. “It only hurts when I move it in certain ways,” he said, “but I need to move those ways.”