The 6-8 wideout has used his size and range to make catches above defensive backs. He has slid into open pockets to make first-down grabs. And he has learned to shield opposing players with his frame in order to gain greater ball security. All of that trio was missing last year, when Lyons failed to attack the ball at its highest point and often allowed passes to get into his chest instead of catching with his hands. The difference, he says, is both mental and physical.
"Before I had a few nicks and bruises, but now I am starting to feel better. I am 100 percent," Lyons said. "There is always room for improvement, but I do feel like I am going up and getting it better."
The recovery from a nagging knee injury has allowed the junior to fully concentrate on his route packages and plays rather than diverting attention to his knee. Lyons admits that last season he was often thinking about protecting the knee, and thus lost total focus on simply playing to potential. Now, he has made enough plays over Quinton Andrews to cause the safety to run steps, and also beaten several corners on the outside, even in two-deep looks.
"I think he did a real good job," receiver Tito Gonzales said of Lyons. "He has made big plays in crucial situations in practice. He made a real big play on third and eight. He is growing as a receiver and we are seeing a lot better things out of him as a receiver. And I see the wide receivers roles increasing along with him. We have to go make plays when we have the opportunity."
West Virginia has given Lyons several, including a wrinkle on an end around similar to what it did with Darius Reynaud last season. Lyons, who was only a decoy on the rep, admits it was just a practice play, and that he isn't likely to be the ball carrier in the game. But it was a showcase of the open-mindedness of the new staff, and their desire to have players comprehend every part of the offense and not simply their assignment.
"Once we get that down we will be fine," Lyons said. "It is coming pretty quick to me, I think. It's going good. We have a lot more different passes, and the run is basically the same just different terminology."
Where Lyons caught just seven passes for 111 yards in 2007 – part of 2,067 pass yards overall, few of which were downfield until the Fiesta Bowl breakout – he should be primed to double those numbers this season. Part of that is Lyons' better play, and part is a more balanced calling courtesy offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. Of the four players who averaged more receiving yards per game than Lyons, two (Steve Slaton and Reynaud) are gone. Only Dorrell Jalloh's 24 catches for 272 total yards is significantly better; Gonzales caught 10 passes for 219 yards, a 79-yard chunk of which came at the expense of the Sooners in a key bowl-game touchdown.
"There is still a maturity process that we have to go through as a receiving corps to get the system down pat," Gonzales said. "You can't be as athletic as you want to when you are at the line guessing what you have to do on certain plays. Once you know what you have to do you can be more athletic."
That quicker understanding should also allow Lyons and the rest of the receivers greater extension of the playbook. Where West Virginia often ran mirroring routes on both sides of the field last year – the inside and outside wideouts sometimes matched in terms of routes, a simplification of the spread pass attack – now the Mountaineers are varying routes at all slots. It makes preparation more difficult for defenses and should create greater confusion in the defensive backfield, which opens downfield throws - and quarterback keepers.