It's looking more and more like starting mike linebacker Barquell Rivers will not play in the Hokies' season opener against Boise State on Sept. 6. The junior tore his left quadriceps March 3 and his recovery was expected to take as long as six months.
He still hasn't been cleared to practice and trainer Mike Goforth told reporters Friday Rivers is "just not up to his football movements yet." That means sophomore Bruce Taylor will likely start in his place against the Broncos.
He'll be thrown into the fire in his first career start, just like Rivers was in the 2009 Orange Bowl. The Hokies would be thrilled if Taylor can repeat Rivers' performance in that game.
Rivers was forced to start against Cincinnati after Brett Warren tore his left ACL. Rivers had only eight tackles in nine regular season games in 2008, while Taylor had six tackles in six games last year. Rivers surprised Hokie fans by having an excellent game in the Orange Bowl win despite being in on only two tackles.
One of those tackles came on a fourth-and-goal rush attempt by Bearcats quarterback Tony Pike. Rivers and Dorian Porch stopped Pike for no gain at the one-yard line to preserve the Hokies' victory.
Rivers then rode the momentum of that game into last year when he was second on the team in tackles behind Cody Grimm with 96, 6.5 for loss. He also had six quarterback hurries and recovered a fumble against Marshall.
But Rivers had an advantage Taylor will not be afforded against Boise State. Rivers started between two experienced players
redshirt seniors against Cincinnati: redshirt senior Purnell Sturdivant at backer and junior Cam Martin at whip. Taylor will man the middle of the field between sophomore Lyndell Gibson at backer and either sophomore Jeron Gouveia-Winslow or sophomore Alonzo Tweedy at whip.
Gibson started the last five games of the 2009 season and both JGW and Tweedy are competing for the right to make their first start in the Hokie uniform. Rivers was expected to provide much needed leadership for the linebacking corps early in the season.
The Hokies will need a big game out of Taylor, who impressed coaches in the spring. He had a pair of sacks in the Hokies' two scrimmages and recorded five tackles, two for loss, in the spring game. However, there's a big difference between what happens in the spring and what happens when the games count, especially against a high-powered offense like Boise's.
Taylor has done nothing so far to prove that he'll have anything less than a solid game against the Broncos. Until he's up against D1 competition that aren't his teammates in something other than garbage time, we won't know for sure. We'll need him to have the same kind of performance his predecessor had in his first start.