The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching. I’ll be using the blog to count down to what we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on Virginia Tech’s roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people that will determine whether the Hokies’ 2012 season is a success or not. That includes players and coaches from both Virginia Tech and, occasionally, a few of its opponents.
No. 9: Bruce Taylor and Tariq Edwards, inside linebackers
Virginia Tech’s depth at inside linebacker isn’t exactly dire. Jack Tyler is someone who can start (and has) if needed and probably could do so if he was on another team right now. And Chase Williams established himself as a player who could contribute this year during spring.
But for the Hokies to be truly outstanding at linebacker, they’ll need Bruce Taylor and Tariq Edwards to return to form after suffering serious injuries in the last year.
Taylor, as I wrote recently, still feels some pain in his right foot, which was operated on after he suffered a Lisfranc injury last October. The foot is sound structurally, but the pain is something the 6-foot-2, 253-pound senior will have to deal with this season.
Edwards, a 6-2, 232-pound junior, had offseason surgery to insert a rod in his left leg to relieve pain from a stress fracture in his shin. It worked. Trainer Mike Goforth said he only has a little pain up where the incision was made to put the rod in, but it still sounds like he’s in the recovery process as August practice nears.
Tech needs both of them back in close to peak form. Taylor was on pace for an All-ACC season, with 53 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and five sacks when he got hurt last year. The first and third of those numbers led the team at the time. He’d still get an All-ACC honorable mention, despite missing the final four games before voting.
Edwards, who played all 14 games, had 71 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions. Only Antone Exum and Eddie Whitley had more tackles, only Kyle Fuller and James Gayle had more tackles for a loss and only Jayron Hosley had more interceptions.
Both are veterans, so having them ready for the training camp portion of August practice isn’t of the utmost importance. Goforth, in fact, said a mid-August target might be more reasonable for some of the team’s injured players. Edwards, whose rehab timetable goes right up to the start of the season, seems like he’d be a candidate to be in that group. Taylor, meanwhile, is cleared for action.
If they return to form, all that does is add strength to a Virginia Tech front seven that is anchored by a deep, athletic defensive line. For a defense that prides itself on disrupting what other offenses are trying to do, getting big seasons out of the two inside linebackers will be critical.
Coming Saturday: You’d be hard-pressed to find a better athlete on the team.
- No. 25: Randall Dunn, senior tight end
- No. 24: Donaldven Manning, freshman cornerback
- No. 23: Pick a punter
- No. 22: J.C. Coleman, freshman running back
- No. 21: Georgia Tech’s option offense
- No. 20: Antoine and Derrick Hopkins, defensive tackles
- No. 19: EJ Manuel, Florida State quarterback
- No. 18: Bud Foster, defensive coordinator
- No. 17: A fourth wide receiver
- No. 16: Cody Journell, junior kicker
- No. 15: Brent Benedict and David Wang, offensive guards
- No. 14: Dyrell Roberts, senior wide receiver
- No. 13: Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett, safeties
- No. 12: Dabo Swinney, Clemson head coach
- No. 11: Key reserves
- No. 10: Frank Beamer, head coach