Jack Tyler to start at LB in Orange Bowl
After nearly an entire month of speculation, it seems the linebacker contingency plan defensive coordinator Bud Foster had in place while preparing to play without starting linebacker Lyndell Gibson in Monday's Orange Bowl against No. 5 Stanford will now go into effect.
Rather than simply replace Gibson with his backup, redshirt freshman Tariq Edwards, Foster announced Friday that redshirt freshman Jack Tyler will instead start at middle linebacker while normal starter Bruce Taylor will move to Gibson's backer position. During Virginia Tech's pre-bowl practices in Blacksburg, Foster said this was a possibility but hinted Edwards would likely get the start.
“I think he’s more of a playmaker and playing the mike position, he’s more of a physical guy," Foster said of Tyler, who will be making his first career start. "Not saying Tariq’s not gonna be a very good football player ... but I think with this offense, what they’re doing – they’re running the football – Jack’s got very great vision, a very instinctive guy. And it’s just kind of a gut feeling from me from that standpoint."
Playing in place of Taylor for a majority of the ACC championship game earlier this month, Tyler finished with seven tackles and a team-high three tackles for loss. But Taylor was a second team all-ACC selection playing middle linebacker this season, and has never played the backer position before. He said Wednesday that it involves far more pass coverage than he's accustomed to.
Foster said he's comfortable with how Taylor has performed the past two weeks playing the backer position, but added that he expects Taylor will also play some at middle linebacker. He expects to use at least a three-man rotation, with Edwards getting time at backer as well. But considering how much Stanford runs the ball on offense, starting Tyler just seemed to be the team's best option at this point.
"With this offense, what their strengths are, we need to match what our strengths need to be as far as that position," Foster said.
Tyler, an Oakton native and 2008 All-Met, walked on with the Hokies last year and earned a scholarship this season based on his performance with the scout team. He grew up a Virginia Tech fan his entire life, and decided to come to Blacksburg as a walk-on after getting just one scholarship offer from a division I-A school (Buffalo). He wanted to come to Blacksburg so badly that he nearly missed the Virginia lacrosse state finals the spring of his junior year of high school to attend a Virginia Tech camp that Foster told him he would need to be at in order to earn a preferred walk-on spot.
Tyler said earlier this month, the main reason he decided to become a Hokie rather than settle for Buffalo or choose to go the division I-AA route came from talking with current Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker Cody Grimm, himself a former Virginia Tech walk-on.
Tyler played lacrosse with Grimm's younger brother at Oakton High, and Cody Grimm made it a point to mention how well Virginia Tech treated its walk-ons. And over the course of the past year and a half, Tyler has quickly found out that if he simply made plays, it didn't matter to the coaching staff whether they had recruited him heavily or not.
"Really, you can just tell the coaches have a little bit more confidence in me," Tyler said earlier this month. "They put me on first team and it’s kind of an honor. I played one good game and [Foster] could easily just keep Bruce at mike and put Tariq at backer, but he’s trying to get me some more reps. And hopefully it works out for me, hopefully I do get some more playing time.”
Some more injury news
*Virginia Tech has suffered a spate of minor ailments during pre-bowl practices this week.
In Thursday's practice session, sophomore cornerback Jayron Hosley tweaked his ankle and could miss Friday's practice as a result. But Foster said he still expects Hosley to play on Monday. When asked about the injury, Hosley said it wasn't a sprain, but that his ankle was tender.
"I can walk on it fine," Hosley said Friday. "I can move it fine. It’s nothing major.”
In addition, over the past day quarterback Tyrod Taylor (stomach virus) and wide receiver Jarrett Boykin (hamstring) have also been limited. Taylor did practice on Thursday. However, I watched the wide receivers during the open portion of practice and didn't notice Boykin on the field.
In a text message, though, head trainer Mike Goforth said both players "will be fine" and are expected to still play in the Orange Bowl.
*As for redshirt junior linebacker Barquell Rivers, who is trying to play for the first time this season after missing all year with a torn quad, Foster said he was concerned with his mobility after he didn't move well during Wednesday's practice.
Before Thursday's practice, Rivers underwent some massage and heat therapy to help warm up and Foster said he looked much better on the field as a result. He said Rivers will sit down with Goforth over the next few days to ultimately decide whether he'll be able to contribute at linebacker Monday.
“Barquell is a prideful kid and I think he told me everything everything I wanted to hear; that he’s ready to play," Foster said. "But I also want to know does he think he can perform at a high level, at the level that he’s gotta play at for us to be successful."
| December 31, 2010; 10:50 AM ET
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