Foster explores his options at linebacker
Aside from middle linebacker Bruce Taylor, a second-team all-ACC selection this season, it had become fairly clear as this season wore on that the Virginia Tech linebacking corps was one of the weak spots on the Hokies defense.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster intimated as much when he de-emphasized whip linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow in favor of more nickel packages after Virginia Tech started the year 0-2, and referenced linebacker Lyndell Gibson’s tenuous hold on his starting job several times towards the end of the season.
But then the ACC championship game happened, and Taylor and Gibson both were forced to the sideline, injured before halftime. In came redshirt freshmen Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards, and neither seemed to miss a beat.
Tyler, a 2007 All Met from Oakton, responded with a monster performance, finishing with seven tackles, and a team-high three tackles for loss. Edwards was no slouch either, holding his own as the Hokies pulled away from Florida State for a 44-33 victory. Edwards has 21 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble for the season.
And now that Gibson’s season is over after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, both Tyler and Edwards figure to play a large role once again in the Orange Bowl. The question that has yet to be answered, though, is just how defensive coordinator Bud Foster plans to replace Gibson’s spot in the lineup.
During bowl practices the past two weeks, Foster has been tinkering with a few options. The most likely scenario has Taylor at his usual mike linebacker spot with Edwards moving into the backer position, where he was Gibson’s back-up all season. But in case Edwards is ineffective or gets hurt, Foster has also rotated Taylor in at the backer spot, and then used Tyler in the middle.
Another option that has emerged since the season ended could be using redshirt junior Barquell Rivers, who sat out the entire season with a torn quad. He’s still suffering pain in his knee, the result of the quad tearing from the joint, and isn’t in peak physical condition after missing the entire year. But Foster said that Rivers could be healthy enough to play a series or two come Jan. 3.
After testing his quad out earlier in the season as part of the Hokies scout team, Rivers was shut down for a couple months when he experienced chronic soreness. Since the ACC championship game, though, he’s been slowly working himself back into the mix, practicing with the team and doing extra conditioning work in the pool and on the elliptical to avoid putting too much pressure on the injury.
“Maybe he’s not in great shape; you gotta knock the rust off a little bit, but from a mental standpoint, it’s just like getting back on a bike for him,” Foster said. “He can handle the calls and his mind aren’t tying up his feet. That’s encouraging.”
It’s unlikely Rivers will receive a medical redshirt for this season – to be considered for one a player must lose two years of eligibility to injury; Rivers redshirted his true freshman year for non-injury reasons – so playing in the Orange Bowl will have no effect on whether he loses a year of eligibility or not.
You’ll remember Rivers was the Hokies starting middle linebacker a year ago and finished with 96 tackles, the second-most on the team. He was expected to be one of just five starters returning for the defense this year. Lucky for the Hokies, Taylor showed he was a force in the middle and Rivers’s absence went largely unnoticed.
The past three days Virginia Tech has amped up its practice routine and begun focusing on implementing the Stanford gameplan, and during that time Coach Frank Beamer has come away impressed by how Rivers has performed despite missing the entire season.
“It’s a delight to see,” Beamer said. “He’s a little bit overweight now; that slows him down. But to not have problems with his knee, that’s the big thing. I’m hoping he can keep going and we can get him in the game down there and get him ready to pick up in the spring where he left off last fall.”
The decision, it seems, will be up to Foster. Does he prefer Edwards, Tyler or Rivers? My guess is we see all three at some point over the course of the Orange Bowl, but Edwards gets the start and the majority of the playing time.
| December 21, 2010; 12:02 PM ET
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