2011 Football Preview: Linebackers

Last season, Virginia Tech’s linebacker play left something to be desired.
Bruce Taylor had a quality year at mike, but subpar play at whip forced Bud
Foster to make a lot of scheme adjustments, and backer play was arguably worse
than whip play.

Jeron Gouveia-Winslow’s shortcomings at whip forced Foster run to a nickel
package. In Tech’s base scheme, the whip linebacker is supposed to be such a
versatile player that the Hokies don’t need a nickel package. Gouveia-Winslow
struggled in coverage in open space early in the season, and his tackling was
even worse. That forced Foster’s hand in the third game of the season.

At backer, Lyndell Gibson had a poor season. He played stiff, he lacked ideal
athleticism for a backer, he missed his gaps, and he struggled to get off
blocks. Gibson is now off the team, and the Hokies should have a major athletic
upgrade at backer.

At mike, the Hokies have several guys who can play: Bruce Taylor, Barquell
Rivers and Jack Tyler.

2011
Linebacker Depth Chart
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Mike Bruce Taylor 6-2 252 r-Jr.
Mike Barquell Rivers 6-0 241 r-Sr.
Mike Jack Tyler 5-11 220 r-So.
Mike Brian Laiti 6-3 205 r-Fr.
Backer Tariq Edwards 6-2 229 r-So.
Backer Telvion Clark 6-1 214 r-So.
Backer Chase Williams 6-1 223 r-Fr.
Whip Jeron Gouveia-Winslow 6-2 195 r-Jr.
Whip Alonzo Tweedy 6-2 185 r-Jr.
Whip Nick Dew 6-2 194 r-Fr.

Chase Williams was still listed as a mike at the end of the spring, but it
doesn’t make sense to have four guys capable of playing mike, and just two guys
at backer. Williams is versatile enough to play either inside linebacker spot,
so I see him sliding over the backer in August to balance out the depth chart.
He could end up seeing time at both spots.

Mike

Bruce Taylor had a good season in his first year as Tech’s starting mike. He
had 91 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and six sacks on the season while earning
second team All-ACC honors. Taylor has great size, and he runs well enough to be
effective in pass coverage.

Taylor was inconsistent at times with his tackling last year, bouncing off
the legs of running backs on critical touchdown runs by Boise State and James
Madison. That’s surprising for a player his size. After the first few games, his
tackling got better, and he went on to have a good season. Unfortunately he
missed the spring with shoulder surgery, so hopefully he isn’t too rusty when
practice begins later this week.

Taylor’s backup is expected to be Barquell Rivers, who missed all of last
season with a torn quad. Rivers was not 100% during the spring, but he served as
Tech’s #1 mike because Taylor and Jack Tyler were out with injuries. He is a
very solid, dependable player. He doesn’t have Taylor’s size or athletic
ability, though, and he lacks Taylor’s playmaking skills.

However, Rivers has one thing that Taylor has lacked in the past:
consistency. Rivers is consistently good with his gap assignments, and he...