College coaches are always looking to improve their teams, and Jim Harbaugh is no different. While the Wolverines are 1-1 after their victory over Oregon State, they could improve in the secondary. Shawn Spencer examined the film and has a suggestion for Coach Harbaugh – let Wayne Lyons be Michigan’s Secondary Savior.
Under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan Wolverines have started 1-1. In those two games, the Michigan defense has allowed just 289 yards passing. Yet despite the secondary’s strong start, it’s time to shakeup the depth chart.
The 144.5 yards per game the Michigan defense has allowed through the air is almost 50 yards fewer than what the team allowed last season. However, the first two games have come against Utah, a run-first offense, and Oregon State, which attempted just six passes in the second half after their starting QB went down with an injury. With Big Ten play set to begin in two weeks, Michigan needs to have their five best defensive backs on the field, one of whom is most certainly Wayne Lyons.
Lyons, a graduate transfer, was recruited by Harbaugh to Stanford, but arrived on campus after Harbaugh had left for the San Francisco 49ers. Five years later, the two have been reunited in Ann Arbor. Since Lyons had been a starter for a top-10 scoring defense in his final two seasons with the Cardinal, many assumed he was a lock to start at Michigan. This seemed especially likely after cornerback Blake Countess transferred to Auburn. Yet this was not the case, as Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling have started the first two games at corner with Jabrill Peppers, Jarrod Wilson, and Delano Hill starting at safety.
After the season-opening loss to Utah, secondary coach Greg Jackson in a radio interview about the secondary’s performance in the opener, described how the coaching staff stressed creating turnovers to the secondary this year. That could very well be the reason Lyons has not been on the field, as he only has three career interceptions. This approach has not worked, however, as Michigan has only one interception on the season, and even that was on a Hail Mary to end the first half against Utah. Lewis may be capable of creating more turnovers than Lyons, but Michigan will also have to deal with him getting burned downfield, as seen here:
While getting beat deep once won’t cause Lewis to lose his starting job if he can start producing turnovers, failing to maintain outside leverage may. Here you can see Lewis try to jump the screen pass, but then give up the edge in the process:
On outside runs and quick throws in the backfield, cornerbacks absolutely must force the ball back inside; this is something Lyons does extremely well. Here’s an example of Lyons reading the run and displaying very good awareness to prevent the running back, who happens to be current Tennessee Titans’ RB Bishop Sankey, from getting to the edge. Not only does Lyons force the ball carrier inside, but he also makes the tackle:
This type of run support will be critical versus Big Ten opponents. Of the eight Big Ten schools Michigan will face this season, five (Northwestern, Ohio State, Maryland, Rutgers, and Indiana) currently average over 225 yards rushing per game. A sixth, Michigan State, will also be very dangerous on the ground, as freshman backs LJ Scott and Madre London have established a legitimate rushing attack for the Spartans.
Lyons is also a very talented cover corner. He excelled at Stanford when playing a press man technique, which Michigan frequently employs. His ability to physically shut down a receiver at the line of scrimmage induced opposing quarterbacks to attack former teammate Alex Carter, who was a third round pick of the Detroit Lions in the 2015 draft.
As a result of the Wolverines preferring corners with length, Lyons has shifted to strong safety, where he is currently the backup to Peppers. With Lewis recovering from a concussion and Stribling struggling to make an impact, it’s time for Peppers or Lyons to move back to CB while the other starts at strong safety. Whichever direction Jim Harbaugh goes with his roster, he needs to include Lyons in the starting lineup in order for Michigan to compete with the top teams in the Big Ten.
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