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Johnson Developing at Linebacker

Jake Johnson looks perfectly fit for the role of fearsome linebacker. He has tattoos on each of his shoulders, with a large grim reaper on his right arm. He shaved his head, he said, because it looks intimidating.

While the truth is that Johnson, a sophomore, is still growing accustomed to the college game, he has started to develop into the type of player that fits his appearance. Johnson is tied with fellow linebacker Barquell Rivers for the team lead in tackles (32) and said recently that the game is becoming more instinctual to him on a week-to-week basis.

“With reps and time and film and practice, it’s all coming slowly,” Johnson said, “but it's all starting to make more sense.”

Johnson played well in his first start, against Alabama on Sept. 5. He made a team-high 13 tackles and was named the game’s most outstanding defensive player. Johnson showcased his upside – his strength and relentlessness – but also displayed some of his youth.

On Mark Ingram’s six-yard touchdown run with 12 minutes 23 seconds remaining, Johnson had a misread and hit the wrong gap, allowing the touchdown. At times this season, Johnson has struggled with such unencumbered play. It is an area in which the coaches say he needs to improve.

“He’s got a tendency to put blinders on and have tunnel vision, so to speak,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said earlier this season. “Sometimes he’s out there running around. My daughter can go out and just run around. I want him to go play with in a scope of the defense.”

Johnson said he has learned from coaches and experienced players on the defense. Linebacker Cody Grimm, a fifth-year senior, said he has tried to help make sure the younger linebackers are on the same page when certain calls are made during a game.

“He’s got great potential,” Grimm said of Johnson. “He’s strong as an ox, he’s fast, and he’s got a motor. When you put that together, he could be a real special player.”

Against Miami, Johnson played perhaps his best game. He had eight tackles, one for a loss. Johnson did not play the whole game because he sprained his left ankle; it was taped up and he returned. He has practiced this week as the No. 6 Hokies (3-1, 1-0 ACC) prepare to play at Duke (2-2). Johnson said he would play because he was “toughing though it.”

By Mark Viera  |  September 30, 2009; 10:17 AM ET
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Next: Offensive Line Played Well Against Miami


Keep up the good work, Mr. Viera. It is nice to see the Post cover VT for us Hokies out here in the Shenandoah Valley. Now, if you could just get Berman to tag-team with you. I miss his non-sensical coverage from previous years.

Posted by: dirtball | September 30, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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