Admittedly, to this point I hadn’t watched a lot of film on new Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Justin Layne so I was looking forward to digging a little deeper. With 24 career pass breaks up in college including 11 in his last 5 games I wanted to take a look at the positives and negatives of his coverage ability.
My thought going in was to look at the different routes that he faced and determine those that he performed well against and those where there is room to improve. In the end, it came down to one factor that generally made the biggest difference. Inside routes vs outside routes.
In the games watched, the majority of the time he played the boundary corner. This puts him on the short side of the field closest to the sideline. Coverages were mixed but consisted of a lot of press coverage.
From this position, there is quite a bit that goes into coverage. You need to be balanced and patient to mirror the initial move of the WR and not react too quickly. Be able to open your hips and accelerate to match the speed and stay on the hip of the WR. Whether to jam at the LOS and with which arm based on the release and the timing of that jam. That’s just a part of what’s happening from play to play.
When the receiver releases to the outside Layne seems much more comfortable in his abilities. His patience, footwork, hips and general demeanor seem relaxed and confident. It could be the fact that he can use the sideline like another defender to his advantage.
On inside releases, there were generally different results. He get on his heels and gets off balance, arms are out of control and gives up space between himself and the WR too easily. He also takes a false step with his right foot regardless of the release that needs to be fixed.
Vs Utah State at the top of the screen the WR hesitates his release and then tries to use speed up the outside. Layne stays patient and shuffles his feet to stay with the WR. He’s in great position to the inside to try to defend the back shoulder underthrow.
Vs Ohio State at the bottom of the screen. The WR uses a jab to the inside and releases outside. Layne stays balanced, feet underneath him to mirror the WR at the LOS. On release he opens his right hip and uses his left and to redirect. He closes the distance to get hip to hip and gets his head around to break up the pass.
At Nebraska, this isn’t a great clip because they go of screen for second. Look closely and you can see the false step forward with his right foot. But again he uses his inside hand to disrupt, gets on the hip and shows an ability change direction with the WR and break up the pass on the comeback route to the outside.
Vs Utah State, at the top of the screen the WR is going stem forward and on his third step break inside. There doesn’t seem to be an indication of a fake to the outside but on the second step Layne starts to open his hips to the outside. In order to recover, he has to flip his inside hip and he kicks his inside leg way back (almost 2 yards) to plant so he can recover.
Vs Utah State, at the bottom of the screen. Here the WR does a slight fake to the outside and again his hips start to open to the outside. The WR runs a drag route through the middle leaving him to chase.
Vs Michigan, here you can see the false step forward. It’s a small thing but this changes his balance immediately. Then look at the distance between him and the WR, the opposite of the outside routes. If this route breaks in, he won’t be able to make a play on the ball.
Vs Ohio State at the top of the screen, the Buckeyes ran inside routes against him all game. Again a slight fake to move the hip to the outside. Way too much space between them but he gets saved by an errant throw.
Vs Ohio State at the bottom of the screen, the receiver takes a big step on his third step to make it look like he’s going to use speed to the outside. It gets Layne to open his hip for a vertical route giving the WR 3 yards of space for the reception.
This is just a few examples but like I said earlier there seems to be a comfort in his game on plays to the outside. To the inside there is a lot of room to upgrade from what he did at Michigan State. No college player comes in as a finished product. I’m sure the staff has identified areas that can be enhanced and putting in the work is the next step.
Now I’m going to use that D word that some of you don’t like to hear when it comes to defensive backs. Yes, the Steelers have struggled to develop DB’s but as I have mentioned in some of my profiles, that was with different coaches. We have to give the new coaches a chance and I’m looking forward to seeing what Tom Bradley and Teryl Austin can do for Layne and the other young DB’s on the team. His development is going to be the key and being he is young and still new to the position it could be easier to get rid of those bad habits.