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Johnson, Rivers Prepare to Start at Linebacker

Since the spring, Jake Johnson has been preparing for Saturday night’s game. By that, of course, he meant his 80-song pregame playlist that includes everything from Metallica to 50 Cent.

“I’ll be ready,” Johnson said. “The music gets me pumped up.”

But Johnson and Barquell Rivers have also been preparing to step into starting roles at linebacker for No. 7 Virginia Tech, which opens against No. 5 Alabama on Saturday in Atlanta. It will be Johnson’s first start; Rivers will be making his second start.

Johnson and Rivers represent two questions marks with the Virginia Tech’s otherwise sturdy returning defense. It is the first time the Hokies have had young and inexperienced linebackers since 2004, when Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall played as redshirt freshmen.

For Johnson and Rivers, it has been a gradual learning process.

“Early in preseason, you’d see a 12-yard run hit,” linebacker Cody Grimm said. “As they’ve been getting more and more reps it doesn’t happen as often because they’re filling out their gaps more often. That just comes with experience.”

Johnson, a sophomore, played in 11 games last season but was utilized on special teams. With his excellent speed and athleticism, Johnson earned the coaches trust and emerged as a starter. His debut will come on a grand stage, but he did not sound too worried.

“I mean, it’s going to happen sooner or later,” Johnson said recently, “so it’s good I just got thrown in the mix into this big game.”

Speaking about Johnson, Rivers said: “He’s doing pretty good. He’s got a couple of mistakes right now. But I was like that last year also.”

Do not be fool if Rivers, a redshirt sophomore, sounds like a veteran. When Brett Warren missed last season's Orange Bowl with an injury, Rivers stepped in and made his first and only start. He performed well, highlighting his night by making a fourth-down stop on the goal line against Cincinnati.

In preseason practices, Johnson and Rivers have worked together to make sure they know the right play and are adjusting properly in certain situations. “I just want to make sure we’re on the same page so we don’t make any mistakes,” Rivers said.

But on Saturday, Johnson and Rivers might not have such a luxury. Whether or not they are ready, Alabama is coming.

By Mark Viera  |  September 3, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
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sure wish we had adibi and hall for this one.

Posted by: dolan83 | September 3, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

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