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Maryland Week, Volume 4 (Lots on Linebackers edition) ...

Buckle up. This is going to be an insanely long blog. Sorry, but I figure it just makes sense to include all three of the main interviews I did for today’s story on Lyndell Gibson (here: http://hamptonroads.com/2009/11/lb-ready-capitalize-his-and-others-mistakes ) ... rather than breaking them up into multiple posts.

So, below, you’ll find Gibson talking about his missteps and subsequent climb back into the coaches’ good graces. You’ll hear from the guy whose job he stole, Jake Johnson, and what he thinks he did wrong.

And you’ll hear from defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who’ll cover both topics and his general thoughts about benching long-time starters in favor of a youngster who might provide a spark.

It’s all pretty compelling stuff. Both Gibson and Johnson were fairly forthcoming about the shortcomings – Gibson’s off the field and Johnson’s on the field.

The transition from Johnson starting (and looking like he’d hold the spot for three years) to Gibson taking his job and ALL the snaps last week seems sudden. But not really. It’s been pretty gradual over the past six games. The first three, though, are what made this all seem so unlikely.

Through this season’s first three games, Johnson played 197 snaps to Gibson’s 10. In the next three games, Johnson played 102 and Gibson got 73. These last three games, Johnson has had 53 snaps to Gibson’s 153.

Gibson has responded pretty well, recording 14 of his 28 tackles in the past two games and recovering a key fumble against the Pirates. This position battle will be intriguing over the next several seasons.

Now here are the three people who will decide how it all plays out ...

LB LYNDELL GIBSON

ON WHAT MAKES HIM TICK: “I’m me. I do what I do. I have fun. Fun all day every day. That’s it.”

ON WHETHER HE WAS WORRIED WHEN SOPHOMORE JAKE JOHNSON AND SOPHOMORE BARQUELL RIVERS SEEMED TO HAVE THE TWO LB SPOTS LOCKED UP: “No. I knew I just had to keep working hard. I watched the mistakes they were making and tried not to make those mistakes. I was being patient about it. I wasn’t going to complain. I was just taking it one practice at a time.”

ON WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE TABLE: “Honestly, I don’t even know. I just play and have fun while I’m doing it. I think if you’re having fun, you play better and don’t think too much and don’t make as many mistakes. I’m not serious at all. I think about fun stuff, try to do something that would be funny on the field, make somebody laugh – while I’m on the field. If I said that to a coach, they’d probably think my head’s not in the game. Well, really I try not to get my head in the game. That’s when I mess up, when I’m thinking a lot. I try to stay loose and stay calm. When I’m having fun, I can just play ball.”

ON HELPING HIS TEAMMATES RELAX: “We try to keep it light. We might be out there talking about something we’re going to do after the game or something funny that happened during the week. I try to bring up something real funny that will make me laugh and make them laugh. If I laugh a lot, I tend to do good things.”

ON WHETHER, THEN, HE CONSIDERS HIMSELF AN INSTINCTIVE PLAYER: “Yeah, I think so. When I don’t think too much, I see more. When I’m in my head too much, I’m focusing on one thing, trying not to mess up that one thing. But when I’m out of my head, just everywhere, I see more and can react quicker. So, yeah, instinct is a strength of mine.”

ON COMPENSATING FOR HIS LACK OF SIZE: “I’m not going to say I’m fast, but I try to go 100 percent when I’m running. My speed could be better than what it is, but the speed I have has to make up for the inches I don’t have. My brother and my friends, they always say I’m slow. When I’m playing just backyard football, I feel like the fastest.”

ON COMPARISONS TO ANOTHER 757 LINEBACKER WHO STARRED AT TECH, VINCE HALL: “I don’t know how. Vince, he took me under his wing when I got here. He taught me a whole bunch about the school, about the system. When we chill, I do see what people are talking about when they say we resemble each other in how we act. We’re both some goofy dudes. We both just like to have fun. I guess that’s what everybody else sees.”

ON HALL BEING GONE, THOUGH, WHEN HE ARRIVED: “I met him before I got here, because we were training together in the summer with Keith Burnell. I got his number and he started texting and calling me. And now he’s back here in Blacksburg so we get to hang out. He’s out here at practice sometimes. He gave me a bunch of pointers. When camp started, he helped me out a lot. He taught me how to read an offense. I was basically playing off straight instinct. I couldn’t read the linemen. I never looked at a whole offense until Vince told me how to do that in a split second. It’s not even as hard as I thought it was. When he taught me, it came so easy and the game has gotten slower and slower every week.”

ON HOW HELPFUL THAT WAS: “It made the game way easier. After he told me, it took me like two middle-drill practices to start getting better at it. Since then, I’m much better reading guards and centers. Coach always says don’t look in the backfield. That’s always what I did. I always keep my eye on the ball, where it’s at and where it’s going. That’s how I played before. But now, when I can read the linemen, it makes it so much easier. I don’t have to pay attention to the ball. I know where the ball is going. If I don’t see the ball, if I lose it, I’m not lost. I read the linemen and I can find the ball.”

ON WHETHER JOHNSON STARTING THE FIRST EIGHT GAMES AND GETTING ALMOST ALL OF THE EARLY PLAYING TIME IT MOTIVATED HIM: “It did. When I was on the sideline, I watched him. I watched everything Jake did. That’s really who I was learning from. He knew more of the system than I did. He’d always teach me the stuff I didn’t know. In the film room, Coach would be talking fast. I couldn’t keep up. Then out on the field, when I did it and I messed up, Jake would tell me what I was doing wrong. And then I’d watch him in the games. When he was out there, I wasn’t tripping. I just thought: Whatever he’s not doing, I’ve got to do better.”

ON HIS APPROACH, THEN, BEING TO TRY TO MAKE JOHNSON’S WEAKNESSES HIS STRENGTHS: “Really, me and Jake make a lot of the same mistakes. But being able to sit back and watch made it easier for me not to make those mistakes.”

ON HIS FIRST START AGAINST ECU: “It got back to high school, hearing the crowd, getting excited, having fun and just playing ball. On the defense, we’re out there having a party. That’s what we do.”

ON WHETHER HE FEELS BAD FOR JOHNSON: “No, I don’t feel bad. We’re close. We’re cool. We’re all brothers. There’s no bad feelings, but I take it like a business. You’ve got to come out here and do work. If you’re producing, you’re playing. It was Coach Foster’s call, so I took advantage of the opportunity.”

ON HOW MUCH OF HIS DELAYED APPEARANCE ON THE FIELD HAD TO DO WITH HIS NEED TO GROW UP A LITTLE BIT: “I think so. The mistakes I was making were stupid. I had to change a whole bunch of my ways. I had to change a bunch of things I was doing. Coach Foster said he was proud of me for the way I’m carrying myself off the field now. I’m trying to keep doing those things and stay away from the situations that can get me caught up into stuff.”

ON WHAT HE HAD TO CHANGE: “I can’t act like I acted at home. I was acting like a little kid. I’m a grown man now. You can’t have your parents looking out for you all the time. You have to make smarter decisions up here.”

ON WHETHER SCHOOLWORK WAS EVER AN ISSUE: “Oh, no. I never miss class. I go to class every day. It was my behavior. I just acted like a kid, like I was still in elementary school – doing elementary-school things.”

LIKE STEALING A BIKE, WHICH CAUSED HIM TO MISS MOST OF SPRING PRACTICE: “It was dumb. I didn’t think of it like stealing. I thought of it like, ‘Here’s a bike nobody’s claiming, so I’ll ride it.’ I wasn’t going to take it and keep it. I just needed transportation from where I was to where I was going. I saw it like: Finders keepers, losers weepers. But then Coach Ballein was like, ‘If it’s not yours, don’t take it.’ That’s my lesson learned there. I’m not doing that no more.”

ON THAT BEING THE EPITOMY OF CHILDLIKE BEHAVIOR: “Exactly. That was exactly my mentality. I never even thought of it like stealing. I don’t steal. That’s ungodly. I don’t like to do wrong to nobody. I wouldn’t want to do anything to somebody that I wouldn’t want them to do to me. I just saw a bike and I needed a ride and I took it from one side of campus back to my dorm and left it outside. That was it. It was silly.”

ON MISSING SPRING BALL FOR THAT: “That’s what it was. I have to represent the program and that’s not representing Virginia Tech well at all.”

ON KNOWING THE LINEBACKER JOB WAS OPEN THIS FALL AND TO NOT BE ABLE TO COMPETE FOR IT IN SPRING, WHETHER HE WAS MAD AT HIMSELF FOR THAT: “I didn’t let it get to me. I couldn’t sweat it. It was over and there was nothing I could do about it. I just kept praying, hoping I’d get a chance to get back out here with the team. That’s all I really wanted. It was tough, but I knew I had to take the consequences. I was mad, but I didn’t beat myself up.”

ON WHETHER THAT PUT HIM BEHIND IN THE BATTLE FOR THE JOB: “I couldn’t really tell you. I didn’t get the chance, so I don’t know. I maybe could’ve done something in the spring, but who knows? It doesn’t matter now. I got the job now.”

ON FOSTER SHOWING, THOUGH, THAT THE JOB ISN’T SAFE ... THAT HE’LL BENCH ANYBODY IF THEY DON’T PLAY WELL CONSISTENTLY: “It’s a business. I’m still not satisfied just because I’m starting. That’s just part of the game. That’s supposed to be. Now I just have to keep doing what I need to do. It does make me work hard. I don’t want the starting job now and two games later I’m back at second. I have to keep working.”

ON FOSTER’S HIGH EXPECTATIONS: “That’s his job. He wants the best out of all of us. We have to give it to him. That’s all he wants. Nothing more, nothing less, just the best. Produce for the defense. We want to win. We want to win championships. I don’t blame him for being hard on us. That’s his job. If we aren’t going to do the job, they’re going to put us out. They’re not going to put him out; They’re going to put us out. He’s not going to lose his job over us.”

ON WHETHER, AS A LAID-BACK GUY WHO JUST LIKES TO HAVE FUN, IT’S HARD TO PLAY FOR A COACH WHO’S SUCH A DISCIPLINARIAN: “I’m glad. It’s just about your mentality. If you take it to heart, you’re probably not going to like him. But if you just accept that what he’s saying and what he’s doing is to make you better, it won’t be so bad. If you’re just one of those people that’s beating yourself up because he’s on your (butt) over a mistake, then you’re not going to like him. For me, I’m going to make a mistake and he’s going to yell at me. It’s going to happen. I take it as it comes. I’m glad he does it. It’s football.”

ON KNOWING WHEN FOSTER’S SCREAMING AT HIM THAT IT’S NOT PERSONAL: “You’ve got to be a man out here. These coaches aren’t going to be soft on us because they don’t want soft players. Soft players lose. Bud keeps it real with you. I love that he keeps it real with you. In the back of my mind, I’m like, ‘You’re right. I did make a mistake. Thanks for kicking my (butt). I won’t do that again.’ ”

ON OUTSIDERS WONDERING AT SOME POINT WHETHER HE WAS JUST GOING TO FADE TO THE BACKGROUND, MAYBE NEVER MAKE AN IMPACT AT TECH: “I don’t pay attention to any outside talk. I just do what I do, have fun. All the talk, it means nothing. Fading to the back is definitely not me. I’ve got to rise to the occasion. I’ve got to step up to the front. I can’t be in the back. I’m too short to be in the back. Nobody will see me. I have to step to the front.”

D-COORDINATOR BUD FOSTER

ON NEW STARTER LYNDELL GIBSON, WHO EARLY IN THE YEAR SEEMED LIKE HE MIGHT NEVER SEE THE FIELD: “He’s a guy we didn’t have a lot of information on, just because last year he was hurt (pulled a hamstring as a true freshman), then he missed most of spring practice. So I didn’t have a lot of information on him, but the little bit I saw of him – in bowl practice and things like that – he showed he’s got some quickness and he plays instinctive. He sees things, got good vision, understands the game. Jake probably separated himself mentally at first, but that’s because he had a lot more reps than Lyndell. But I saw Lyndell progressively getting better. He’s been playing quite a bit the last several weeks, alternating those guys. And the bottom line is this: The guy is a good football player. I’m not disappointed in Jake, but I feel like he’s leveled off a little bit. I haven’t seen Lyndell’s ceiling at all. I think he’s got a lot more he can improve on. But he shows he can play the game. It comes easy to him. That’s where you see a guy that makes plays. We need to have more production at that position, and I’m going to put the best guy in there. He does some things and sees some things that Jake has not done or has not seen. That’s just the bottom line. Jake’s still a good football player and will be a good football player.”

ON HIM BENCHING JOHNSON AND SENIOR STARTER DORIAN PORCH AT ROVER, SENDING THE MESSAGE THAT NO ONE’S JOB IS SAFE IF THEY DON’T CONSISTENTLY PERFORM: “Exactly. The message is we’re in a production business. You’ve got to produce. If we want to be happy and nice with these guys ... these guys understand. If they’re not living up to the expectations, we’ll find someone who can do the job. Now, we’re going to need Jake and Porch before the season is over. We’re all in this thing together. Some guys develop at a rate better than others.”

ON GIBSON NEEDING TO GROW UP, TOO, BEFORE HE COULD PLAY: “Everybody sees these kids as big, athletic men, but they’ve got the minds of 18- and 19-year-old kids. They’re kids. But here, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing the right thing. If you’re not, consequences will be paid. He’s lucky he has been giving another opportunity and he is appreciative of that. I know he understands that now. He’s trying to make the best of it, and you see that. Sometimes kids are going to make mistakes. As long as they understand there are consequences, there will be more good than bad.”

ON STEALING THE BIKE AND MISSING SPRING BALL COSTING GIBSON A CHANCE TO PLAY MORE EARLIER: “Yeah, exactly. That’s a big reason, because I didn’t have information on him.”

ON SEEING GIBSON’S MATURATION: “He’s done a great job academically and he’s trying to do the right things off the field. That’s a sign of maturity. There’s a responsibility with being a Virginia Tech football player and a big-time athlete. You’re under a microscope and you’ve got to act responsibly. He’s representing our family and his family. He knows things he does could hurt a lot of other people.”

ON HIS MISTAKES, THOUGH, NOT BEING HORRIBLE ONES: “No, no. He just wanted a ride home. Now, that was a very stupid decision and it just about cost him. But I think he was kind of scared straight.”

ON HIS GENERAL GOOFINESS AND FOSTER SAYING THAT REMINDS HIM OF VINCE HALL: “He does. Now I hope he can start to play like Vince, because Vince was not just a good player but a great player. He is a goofy guy. I walk in today and Lyndell has a big smile on his face. I say, ‘What are you smiling about?’ He starts going on about something silly. Him and I, because I’ve sat down and talked with him about a lot of things, have a good relationship. He feels like he can talk to me and he can trust me. He may not always like what I say, but I’m going to always have his best interest at heart. He’ll have open ears. If he continues on the path, he can be a key part of our success.”

ON WHETHER HIS TALENT ALSO REMINDS HIM OF HALL: “He’s got a knack. I don’t know if he’s quite there yet. Vince had great vision, saw things quicker than everybody else. This kid’s not there yet, but he does some things very naturally, with some key reads and some vision. Each games, a couple things show up. Now he’s not anywhere close to where he can be. He played OK against ECU. That’s all I’d say: He played OK. But he’s going to keep getting better. He wants to please and as long as he keeps working on all the things we talk about, he’ll continue to grow. If he doesn’t, we’ll find somebody else. We just need more from that position and we hadn’t gotten it, so we were looking to stir the pot a little and see if we could find some fire coming out of it. Hopefully he’s the spark.”

LB JAKE JOHNSON

ON HOW HE’S HANDLING HIS DEMOTION: “It was tough, but it’s all a learning experience. Just live by the day. Don’t think about yesterday or tomorrow. Just go day by day.”

ON WHETHER IT LIT A FIRE: “It lights a fire. I just have to keep practicing hard, playing hard, and things will come.”

ON WHAT FOSTER SAID TO HIM: “He just said I kind of leveled off in my play and was making some little mistakes that I shouldn’t be making. But I’m still learning.”

ON WHAT, EXACTLY, HE WAS DOING WRONG: “Just adjusting. If they’re in one formation to start, then they change to another one, just adjusting to it. Stuff I should know but it’s just not clicking right away. I would know, but it would just come at the last second. ... They snap it and you’re out of place. I just have to watch more film and seeing it in practice.”

ON THAT BEING BIG, THE LACK OF EXPERIENCING THOSE THINGS ON THE FIELD AS A TRUE SOPHOMORE: “I think so. A lot of it is experience. I played in eight games this year and never played last year. Experience comes with time.”

ON WHETHER HE WAS SURPRISED BY THE MOVE: “I was sort of surprised, but it’s whatever’s better for the team. We had been rotating for a while, so I kind of figured it might come sooner or later.”

ON WHETHER FOSTER HAS ENCOURAGED HIM: “He just told me not to stay down on myself. I’ve just got to focus.”

ON NOT PLAYING A SINGLE SNAP AT ECU: “I thought I was going to get in and rotate a lot. But we won, and that’s all that matters.”

ON MORE SPECIFICS ABOUT WHAT HE MESSED UP: “Just the little things. I remember against North Carolina when I got pulled out, they were in one formation and then they moved everybody into the boundary. I didn’t remember going over that during practice. They brought No. 8 (WR Greg Little) into the backfield.  I was kind of just thinking about what I had to do and I was scooting over, and at the last second I should’ve been outside and I wasn’t. (And Little broke a long run.) Stuff happens. It’s just hard. You focus in so much on one thing, then something changes and you’ve got to fix it real quick.”

ON HOW MUCH HARDER THIS SYSTEM IS THAN THE DEFENSE HE PLAYED IN HIGH SCHOOL: “In high school, they just said, ‘Go tackle the ball carrier.’ I didn’t really have to drop back in coverage. This is just a whole new experience.”

ON WHO HE TALKS TO DURING TOUGH TIMES: “I talk to my dad, my mom, uncle, friends. My good friends back home are giving me support. I can’t really think about what happened. I’ve just got to keep on trucking through it.”

ON GIBSON SAYING JOHNSON TAUGHT HIM A LOT: “He’s doing well. That’s all I can ask for. We’re winning and he’s playing well and I’m glad I could help him out.”

ON THE UPSIDE TO THIS DECISION IS THAT IT’S CLEAR FOSTER WILL PLAY WHOEVER IS PERFORMING BEST AND HIM HAVING A CHANCE TO GET IT BACK: “I figure if I keep practicing hard, stepping up, start playing more, then hopefully I’d get my job back. If not, as long as we keep winning that’s all that matters to me."

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