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Jake Johnson moves to defensive end

Jake Johnson is wearing a new look this spring: a mullet haircut with "racing stripes" shaved into the either side. He is also trying out a new position.

As Virginia Tech gets underway with spring football practices, Johnson is getting used to moving to defensive end from linebacker in the offseason.

"I was real shocked getting moved to D-line," Johnson, a rising junior, said on Wednesday. "It's tough going from doing one thing to putting your hand down."

Johnson started the first eight games at linebacker in 2009, but his play leveled off and he showed a lack of instinct and a difficulty making plays in space. Lyndell Gibson took his starting position, as Johnson, a talented, strong athlete, saw a marginalized role.

In the offseason, defensive coordinator Bud Foster informed Johnson of the position switch. The move, Foster said, was about accentuating Johnson's strengths while taking away some of his limitations.

"Jake's a guy that plays a little bit with blinders on," Foster said, adding: "End's a play-making spot for us. I think there's a lot less from a mental standpoint, but he's good football player and plays hard."

Foster added, "Hopefully we're all going to be happy in the end result."

Johnson said his first day at his new position was difficult. He rushed the passer in high school, he said, but never played with his hand on the ground. He still has to learn techniques to beat offensive linemen and the fundamentals that come along with playing at defensive end.

Johnson is cut out of the mold of other defensive ends who have had success at Virginia Tech, notably Jason Worilds from 2007 to 2009 and Corey Moore from 1997 to 1999. At 6 feet 2 and 230 pounds, Johnson has a similar build to Worilds and Moore, both of whom were undersize but were crafty in using their speed off the edge to rush the passer.

Earlier this week, Coach Frank Beamer even made the comparison to both Worilds and Moore. But with a lot to learn at his new position, Johnson was not so quick to draw a line connecting himself to those former Hokies players.

"That would be nice," Johnson said of being considered in the same category as those players. "That's what the goal is to get to those guys. But it's hard because those guys started there."

By Mark Viera  |  April 1, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
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