Lyons, a true sophomore, injured his meniscus – two cartilage pods in the knee that help solidify and smooth movement – at the end of summer workouts. He had surgery one week before drills began, which forced the Monroeville, Pa. native to miss much of camp. He began taking contact in the final week, then experienced a brief relapse that kept him from delivering any substantial play through the first three games. Now, with the knee nearly fully healed and the daily aches subsiding, Lyons is both becoming the possession receiver he really is and leaving behind the notion that his frame dictates solely a downfield threat.
“I have been coming along for a while,” said Lyons, who has played in five games, catching as many passes for 86 yards, an average of 17.2 yards per grab. “The knee has been getting better and I have been getting healthy. It still bothers me a little bit to this day. It bothers me after the game. I was trying to baby it a little bit, and that made it even worse.”
Lyons’ toughness was pondered by head coach Rich Rodriguez, who noted that players must play through being hurt, as long as they are not injured. Lyons missed more time than expected because of his worries about the knee, but, in the last two games, has recorded all five of his receptions. He snared three passes for 48 yards in the loss at South Florida, but could not come up with a fourth-down catch on a low throw from backup quarterback Jarrett Brown to extend the last drive. Lyons caught two passes for 38 yards and drew a pass interference on a deep ball in the 55-14 win at Syracuse.
The long pass was one of few that will likely be thrown to Lyons. One of the major fan misconceptions is that the 6-8, 220-pounder can currently be a downfield threat. His body still needs to develop, and Lyons lacks the speed and burst of former WVU receiver Chris Henry, or some of the other past deep threats like Jay Kearney, Reggie Rembert or James Jett. Lyons is actually a possession receiver better able to seal defenders to the outside with his body and get open on slant passes and tosses into the flat. He has flashed the desire and ability to go up and take away a ball from a smaller defender, including when he finally attacked the football on the long pass versus the Orange. Where in the past the receiver would have allowed the ball to come to him, he is now going to it. Catching it at the highest available point is the next step.
“Wes has done pretty well,” Rodriguez said. “The last couple games he has gotten better and better, but the thing is he missed so much time in camp that I believe he will continue to progress. We have always tried to light a fire under him to get him to show some emotion, and I think it’s just his personality. It’s a lot more important to him than he shows it sometimes to you, but I’ve been pleased with his development the last couple of weeks.”
Lyons’ quietness covers an understated confidence. He caught 62 passes for 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior, then played as a true freshman last year. He tallied four receptions for 39 yards in 10 games. Though the numbers don’t indicate the degree of development, Lyons says he has seen changes in his game.
“It felt good to make a couple plays, get a couple balls thrown my way,” said Lyons, who still ices the knee after every game and practice. “I am starting to feel a connection with everybody. If I can get open, the quarterback will find me. The repetitions are helping. Maybe I stepped out there too early at first. It flared up again. Now I have waited, and I feel I am ready to play.”