Layne makes switch to full-time cor­ner

For­mer re­ceiver had five tack­les, forced fum­ble vs. Michi­gan

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY MATT CHARBONEAU The Detroit News mchar­boneau@de­troit­ twit­­boneau

East Lans­ing — Justin Layne in­sists he was just caught up in the mo­ment, feel­ing the pas­sion that is the ri­valry between Michi­gan State and Michi­gan.

It just so hap­pens, the tele­vi­sion cam­eras caught a quick glimpse of some of that pas­sion as Layne, the sopho­more cor­ner­back, gave a quick choke sign to Michi­gan’s Ed­die McDoom af­ter the re­ceiver dropped a pass deep in MSU ter­ri­tory on the fi­nal drive of the game. Three plays later, the game was over and Michi­gan State had won.

“It was just an emo­tional thing, an in-the-mo­ment thing,” Layne said this week. “I was like, ‘How’d they catch that?’ It hap­pened in the back­ground. I didn’t ex­pect them to catch that.

“My phone has been crazy about that. I didn’t think it was gonna be that big.”

The mo­ment was cap­tured by many and has had quite the run on so­cial me­dia, but it’s hardly what Layne is fo­cus­ing on th­ese days. It shouldn’t de­tract from the progress that Layne has made this sea­son, not to men­tion the pro­duc­tion he had against the Wolver­ines, record­ing five tack­les and an im­por­tant forced fum­ble.

As No. 21 Michi­gan State gets set to take on Min­nesota on Satur­day night in Min­neapo­lis, the for­mer wide re­ceiver turned cor­ner­back is back in the start­ing lineup and show­ing why the Spar­tans coach­ing staff made the switch with him early in his fresh­man sea­son of 2016.

“Justin Layne is a tal­ent,” Michi­gan State coach Mark Dan­to­nio said.

“He’s big, he can run. Guy ran 46 some­thing in a 400. I mean, he can run. He’s a re­cruited wide re­ceiver, so he has great ball skills. He’s tack­ling very ef­fec­tively. I think he’s got a big up­side. He re­minds me a lot of Trae Waynes when Trae was a red­shirt fresh­man.”

That’s fairly high praise con­sid­er­ing Waynes, who started the fi­nal game of his red­shirt fresh­man sea­son, be­came a firstround pick of the Min­nesota Vik­ings fol­low­ing the 2014 sea­son.

It’s the type of com­pli­ment that was sur­pris­ing to Layne, but one that he said will only push him.

“That’s a great com­par­i­son, a great per­son to be com­pared to,” Layne said. “It makes me want to work that much harder so I can get up to how he was.”

The key mov­ing for­ward for Layne is that he can work harder know­ing he’s just a cor­ner­back.

Af­ter mak­ing his de­but last sea­son against In­di­ana as a re­ceiver, Layne was at cor­ner the next week against BYU and a week af­ter that started against North­west­ern, in­ter­cept­ing a pass and re­turn­ing it 43 yards for a touch­down.

He fin­ished the sea­son play­ing eight games on de­fense and start­ing five. But by the time spring rolled around, the re­ceiv­ing corps had lost at least one player from the sea­son be­fore and all of the fresh­men weren’t on cam­pus.

That left Layne play­ing both spots, but any thought of pla­toon­ing ended by the time pre­sea­son camp be­gan as the re­ceiv­ing corps had been re­stocked.

And it’s ben­e­fited both Layne and the de­fense.

“He’s got­ten bet­ter and bet­ter for a young man that came here as a wide re­ceiver,” said co-de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Har­lon Bar­nett, who also coaches the sec­ondary. “Now he’s been with us full time since the sum­mer. We thought we were gonna have him full time af­ter last year, then we went into spring and had to move him back over to re­ceiver. At first, it was par­tially, then it be­came full time be­cause of in­juries.

“But ever since the spring and through­out the sum­mer, he’s been back with us. So, he’s now start­ing to get all the lit­tle tech­ni­cal things down at de­fen­sive back, at cor­ner in par­tic­u­lar, that he needs to to take his game go to an­other level.”

He and fresh­man Josiah Scott have reached an­other level fairly quickly, lock­ing down the start­ing spots af­ter the first sev­eral games used a ro­ta­tion that in­cluded ju­nior Tyson Smith and sopho­more Josh But­ler. All four will still see time, but the starters are clear at this point.

“We feel like those two guys have re­ally stepped up,” Bar­nett said.

“We still feel great about Tyson and Josh. They’re good play­ers, and you will see them some more this year, you will see them for sure. But for right now, some­body has to start ob­vi­ously and play, so we feel like Josiah and Justin are do­ing a good job.”

And the more Layne plays, the more com­fort­able he gets as a cor­ner­back.

“It’s a lot dif­fer­ent from re­ceiver, ob­vi­ously,” Layne said. “Last year there was a lot go­ing on. I feel like I was just go­ing with the flow.

“But right now I’m start­ing to work on the lit­tle things, and cor­ner­back is be­com­ing more nat­u­ral to me now.”

David Guralnick/Detroit News

Michi­gan State cor­ner­back Justin Layne, left, had five tack­les and forced this fum­ble Satur­day night against Michi­gan.

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