Virginia Tech’s defense had already been battered with injuries through the first two months of the season, but Bud Foster’s unit got its worst news yet on Monday. The team announced starting middle linebacker Bruce Taylor will miss the rest of the season after suffering a lisfranc sprain in his right foot during the third quarter of the Hokies’ 30-14 win over Boston College this past weekend.
Taylor, who leads Virginia Tech with 53 tackles this year, was a second team all-ACC selection in 2010 when he burst on the scene with a team-high 91 tackles, including 15.5 tackles for a loss.
Foster considered Taylor “the quarterback of the defense,” and the 6-foot-2, 243-pound redshirt junior was also second on the team this year with five sacks. Taylor will have season-ending surgery this week and becomes the third opening day defensive starter to be lost for the year, and the sixth player overall since the Hokies opened training camp in August.
Taylor’s injury is the same one that sidelined linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow for the year two weeks ago against Miami. A lisfranc sprain occurs in the midfoot region and doctors consider it a rare injury. There’s an extended recovery time because it’s a weight-bearing joint.
In Taylor’s place, Foster will likely turn to redshirt senior Barquell Rivers and redshirt sophomore Jack Tyler. Rivers took Taylor’s spot in the lineup on Saturday and had a key third quarter quarterback hurry that forced Boston College’s Chase Rettig to throw an interception.
He also racked up 96 tackles as the team’s starting middle linebacker in 2009. But Rivers suffered a devastating quad injury in the spring of 2010 and both he and the coaching staff admit he may never completely recover from it.
“I’m not back to full strength. There’s still things like changing direction and stopping on a dime that I have to work on,” Rivers said Saturday. “But each week I’m getting more confidence and believing in my leg.”
Tyler, a 2008 All Met from Oakton High, started at middle linebacker and had five tackles in last year’s Orange Bowl loss to Stanford. Taylor moved to the backer linebacker spot for that game with Lyndell Gibson out with a shoulder injury. Tyler also replaced an injured Taylor in the second half of last year’s ACC championship game and finished with seven tackles, including three for loss.
Foster said last season Tyler is strong defending the run, but still has work left to do in terms of his pass coverage. Tyler and Rivers are currently tied on Virginia Tech’s depth chart even though Rivers played for Taylor on Saturday.
If that weren’t enough, head trainer Mike Goforth told Coach Frank Beamer’s official Web site that whip linebacker Alonzo Tweedy could be in a protective boot “for awhile,” after suffering a high ankle sprain on Saturday. Tweedy was already filling in for Gouveia-Winslow. The team may have to use redshirt freshman Nick Dew, a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school who just switched from safety to linebacker this past spring, at Duke this week.
Defensive end James Gayle also left Saturday’s game against Boston College after one series. He re-aggravated the sprained left ankle that kept him out of Virginia Tech’s 38-17 win at Wake Forest. Goforth said Gayle should be able to practice this week. Starting cornerback Jayron Hosley also missed Saturday’s game due to a left hamstring injury, but should be on the practice field this week.
If Hosley and Gayle can’t play at Duke on Saturday, the Hokies defense would be without five opening day starters. But the most remarkable part about the ever-growing list of ailments is that Virginia Tech still ranks No. 13 in the country in total defense right now.
In addition to all those major injuries, Goforth said safety Antone Exum (shoulder), left guard Greg Nosal (ankle), right guard Jaymes Brooks (ankle), wide receiver Jarrett Boykin (quad) and place kicker Cody Journell (quad) are all dealing with bumps and bruises of some kind.
“We really need a break right now,” Goforth said.