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Gibson earns trust, and starting role

Lyndell Gibson’s career at Virginia Tech has not started smoothly. He fell into legal trouble and was suspended from the team in last year’s spring practices.

But on Thursday, Gibson will make his first career start for the Hokies. Gibson, a redshirt sophomore linebacker, has started gain back his coaches’ trust and will step in for Jake Johnson.

“We just need to find more production out of that spot,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “Jake is still going to play, but I’m going to give the nod to Lyndell to see if we can get a little juice.”

Foster added, “We’re trying to stir up the pot to see if we can get it going for a little bit.”

For Gibson, the promotion is as much a referendum on his ability on the field as it is his development off of it. He had some off-the-field disciplinary issues last school year.

In October 2008, Gibson was arrested in his home town of Virginia Beach for misdemeanor unlawful purchase or possession of alcohol. Gibson, who turned 19 in July, received 12 months of unsupervised probation.

In March 2008, Gibson and three teammates – Xavier Boyce, Marcus Davis and Joe Jones – were charged in connection with a December incident in which they allegedly stole two bicycles.

They were charged with felony grand larceny for stealing one bike, valued at more than $200; misdemeanor petit larceny for stealing the other, valued at less than $200; and two counts of misdemeanor intentional property damage for breaking the bikes’ locks.

The grand larceny charges were not pursued, and the petit larceny charges were reduced to interfering with property rights. Gibson and Jones were fined $500, while Boyce and Davis received community service. All four received community service for the property-damage charges.

“Let’s take advantage of the opportunity football has given you on and off the field and let's use that to get our life straightened out,” Foster said of what he told Gibson. “That’s when you realize they’re kids. They do stupid things. I’ve done stupid things in the past. I was given a second chance. You can relate that to the kids.”

Foster called Gibson an instinctive player, with a good game awareness. And more than that, Foster said, Gibson has steadily improved since coming to Blacksburg. The Hokies need him now.

With Virginia Tech’s defense showing some uncharacteristic weaknesses this year, Foster has routinely cited his unit’s youth. One spot where that youth showed up was at linebacker. The defense’s underbelly has been exposed this year: an interior that has struggled as a result of injuries and inconsistency at defensive tackle and inexperience at linebacker.

Johnson, a sophomore, has started every game this season and is fourth on the team in tackles (48). But he has also struggled. The coaches have said he has, at times, failed to play within the scope of the Hokies’ defensive scheme. For example, he has missed assignments filling his gaps, and has not been as productive as fellow linebacker Barquell Rivers (71 tackles).

“He’s a guy right now who has to do a better job of adjustments in the game,” Foster said. “That’s not anything against him; that’s his lack of experience. Maybe coming in as a backup role would be better for him.”

As the season has gone on, Johnson has seen less playing time in favor of Gibson. In the first three games, Johnson played 197 snaps to Gibson’s 10. But against North Carolina last Thursday, Gibson played 55 snaps to Johnson’s 16.

“Coach Foster wants to give Lyndell a start because he’s been playing good for us,” linebacker Cody Grimm said. “It’s one of those things to show he’s been playing good, and give him credit.”

By Mark Viera  |  November 5, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
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