We move to the defense to continue our series of discussions on how Virginia Tech's depth chart should look next season. We're skipping defensive end for now because there's been way too much discussion about that position in recent days. We'll get to it soon enough. For now, we'll look at backer, the Hokies' inside linebacker position that lines up with the mike linebacker to his right and the rover to his left.
This was a position that saw someone lose their starting job during the regular season. Both guys who started games at backer return in 2010 making this one of the most hotly contested positions for spring and fall practice.
Starter: Lyndell Gibson, So. (returning starter)
Possible Backups: Jake Johnson, Jr.; Quillie Odom, Jr.; Tariq Edwards, Fr.
Outlook: Jakeamania got off to a strong start in Blacksburg when Johnson was named the starting backer going into the season. He played well early on, but his pass coverage never improved and after a particularly rough game against North Carolina, Johnson handed over the starting job to Gibson. Gibson started the final five games of the season with Johnson not even seeing the field against East Carolina and Tennessee.
While Gibson's pass coverage makes him a better overall linebacker, Johnson still has the edge when it comes to stopping the run in my opinion. Stats don't tell the whole story, but Virginia Tech's efficiency against the run did go down during the final half of conference play. If Johnson can improve in coverage he could wrestle the starting job back from Gibson this offseason, though it won't be easy.
Since the Hokies will be very green at defensive end and whip this year I doubt they'll be able to put as much pressure on the quarterback as they're used to. This means more pressure on the guys who are back in pass coverage. Because of this, I believe Gibson should start over Johnson. However, this will mean more pressure on the mike linebacker and the defensive tackles to stop the run.
Odom is a player Bud Foster singled out last offseason for not developing as quickly as the coaching staff would have liked. He appeared in only four games in 2009 and as a junior, this will be a make-or-break offseason for Odom if he wants playing time in significant situations. Tariq Edwards redshirted last season after being a highly touted recruit from South Carolina. Edwards played outside linebacker in high school, but is much too big to play whip, making him a perfect candidate to be the backer of the future at Tech.
Up for Debate
- Who should start at backer, Gibson or Johnson?
- Which will be more important for the Hokies linebackers this year: run stopping or pass coverage?
- Will one of the younger players have a great offseason and crack the two-deep?