Hokies linebacker Tariq Edwards‘ knee is not 100 percent yet and the junior is still probably a few weeks away from getting back to full strength, but merely getting 12 plays last week against Bowling Green — his first action this year — was a boost to his spirits after sitting out so long.
“Being able to get back out on the field, it blew my mind,” Edwards said. “I’m back out here in front of the fans.”
It was indeed baby steps last week for Edwards, who has been sidelined after two offseason surgeries on his left leg — one in March to insert a rod to ease pain from a stress fracture in his shin and another in mid-August to remove a screw in his knee that was pinching every time he ran.
It kept him limited throughout training camp and the first few weeks of the season. After returning slowly to the practice field, he asked coaches and trainers if he could dress out for the first time this season against Bowling Green, just to test his leg in action other than practice.
Edwards didn’t get into the game until the fourth quarter when the contest was well-decided, but he got 12 snaps and assisted on a tackle.
“I still think he’s probably a couple weeks away from where we’d like him to be and where he’d like to be,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “But the only way he’s going to get better is if he gets out and plays more and gets that leg stronger and gets into playing shape a little bit. He’s got to play with a bend in his knees consistently. And just getting his quad strength back and some of those things is important.”
Edwards estimated that he’s about 90 percent. Foster went with 85. Either way, he’s not quite there, and with Cincinnati coming up, probably won’t have much more of a role than to provide some depth.
But the leg held up against Bowling Green. A lineman tried to chop him on one play, which gave Edwards brief pause before continuing, but he thinks his redirection and his pursuit were fine.
“I still feel it a little bit — a little aching, a little soreness,” he said. “But during the game, I just had so much adrenalin running that I really just wasn’t thinking about it.”
Teammates are hoping Edwards can get back to full strength soon and give a thin linebacking corps that has been relying a lot of Jack Tyler and Bruce Taylor more depth.
“You can see it in his eyes how much he wants to play and how much he wants to be out there with us,” Tyler said. “He’ll be the first one to tell you that he’s not there yet, but he’s getting there and he’s pushing it. And he’ll be fine.”
Here are some more notes and quotes from post-practice interviews Monday with defensive coaches and players …
- Left guard David Wang (ankle) was in a blue, limited jersey at practice. He was still favoring his left ankle, limping considerably and moving slow during post-practice sprints.
- Foster echoed Frank Beamer‘s earlier sentiments about Cincinnati’s athleticism, calling the Bearcats “probably to date the most athletic team we’re going to play all the way around.” He sounded very impressed with Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux. “I think he’s a dynamic player, but he’s just a big, athletic kid that can throw, can run,” Foster said. “He’s going to present a lot of problems from the standpoint of containing him and not allowing him to get outside and make plays. Because he can get outside the pocket and throw it and he can get outside the pocket and run it. He’s a dynamic athlete.”
- Defensive line coach Charley Wiles compared the 6-foot-5, 199-pound Legaux to Logan Thomas, although quicker and smaller. I’ll have more on the challenge Cincinnati presents with its running game for a story I’m working on for Wednesday, but Foster said the Bearcats are a little different to prepare for than, say, Michigan and Denard Robinson in the Sugar Bowl. “Michigan ran the sweeps and things with Denard, quarterback powers with Denard,” Foster said. “They’re not doing that with this kid right now. They’re doing more just decides with the runs and nakeds and doing those type of things.”
- The Bearcats will be a tackling challenge with the way they run their offense, spreading the field and making defenses tackle them in space. Cincinnati’s rushing offense through two games ranks 12th nationally with 259.0 yards per game. Virginia Tech has been inconsistent in its rush defense, allowing 184.5 yards per game (90th nationally). “The good thing is Pitt, we learned that our emotion and our tenacity was kind of a letdown,” Tyler said. “And against the spread offense, those are the two things that have to be your best two things, because you have to have everyone running to the ball because they’re going to be out in space a lot and they’re going to be trying to make people miss, so you really have to get 11 people to the ball at all times. And that comes back to you emotion, your effort and running through people.”
- Cincinnati is the first of a string of spread teams that Virginia Tech will face. The schedule includes North Carolina, Duke and Clemson all in October. All of those teams use spread elements with their offenses. “It still comes down to matching athletes up in space,” Foster said. “It’s kind of like playing basketball on grass.”
- Virginia Tech has begun to use more nickel the last few weeks than it did the first two games. Last week, Detrick Bonner moved from safety to the nickelback spot, with Kyle Fuller staying outside at corner and Michael Cole coming in to play one of the safety positions. “We just felt like we needed to be stronger at corner than we were the week before,” Foster said. “We’re still trying to tweak it to see what our best scenario back there is. Sometimes it’s hard enough to get four defensive backs, let alone find a fifth one that you can win with.”
- Foster continues to evaluate the whip linebacker position. He said Jeron Gouveia-Winslow hasn’t gotten back to the consistently high level he was playing at last year before his foot injury. Ronny Vandyke got plenty of looks against Bowling Green and had an active game. In 24 snaps, he had two tackles, an assist, two quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. “He does some good things but he also had a couple mistakes,” Foster said. “But the only way he’s going to be better is to see himself on film. And he plays fast and makes some plays in space, and that’s what that position demands.”
- It sounds like Vandyke is still not quite to the point where coaches trust him all the way, though. “The only way he’s going to get better is we’ve got to get him on the field more in game situations,” Foster said. “You can get it out here in practice, but until you get out in game situations, it’s totally different, when you’re playing and it means something. You can have do-overs in practice. You don’t get any do-overs on Saturday. That’s where he’ll need to continue to get better. But he’s going to continue to get better.”
- Tyler and Gouveia-Winslow are both Northern Virginia guys. Tyler is from Oakton. Gouveia-Winslow is from Ashburn. Naturally, both are looking for plenty of tickets this week. Tech players get an allotment of four for family each game. “I’ve been asking all the guys if they have any extras,” Tyler said. “A lot of them are from North Carolina and we always give them all the North Carolina tickets. This is kind of my game that I get the tickets for, which is nice, just because there are a lot of people who want to come just to show support. Trying to make them proud.”
- Both Tyler and Gouveia-Winslow grew up as Redskins fans and remember, at least on one occasion each, attending a game at FedEx Field. They both played there in the Boise State game in 2010. “I was like a little kid in the candy store,” Tyler said. “That was just awesome. I remember we were in the home locker room that game. It was just an awesome feeling knowing that’s what I always dreamed of when I was little. That’s the locker room I wanted to be in when I played football. It’s a cool venue.”
- Tech has a bit of a cold streak in NFL stadiums, having lost four straight. That includes the loss at Pitt earlier this month at Heinz Field, last season’s Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), last year’s ACC title game (Charlotte) and the 2011 Orange Bowl (Miami). “I think just a coincidence,” Gouveia-Winslow said. “Maybe just big games, good teams. You’ve just got to show up and play. So it’ll be similar this weekend. I think two real good teams. It’ll be who wants it more and who makes the least mistakes, because we’re both going to come out real hard.”
- Tyler was bullish on the Redskins after they knocked off the Saints to start the year, proclaiming that he already bought his Super Bowl tickets. He’s backtracked some now after two straight losses. “It’s such a letdown,” he said, laughing. “It’s always like this. We win the first game, lose the next 15. Every year.” As for those phantom Super Bowl tickets? “I might have to return them,” he said.