- - Tuesday, September 11, 2012

BLACKSBURG, Va. — He didn’t need to return the shoe.

If there’s one criticism senior linebacker Bruce Taylor has of teammate Jack Tyler’s performance so far this season, that’s it.

“He’s too nice,” Taylor said of Tyler, the Virginia Tech football team’s leading tackler in each of its first two games. “At the point of attack, he’s as physical as they come. But certain little things, I always try to get on him. You’re a defensive player. There’s a certain attitude you got to have.”

So when Tyler came away from a tackle during Saturday’s win over Austin Peay holding an opposing player’s cleat in his hands, Taylor was appalled that Tyler walked over and handed it back.

“I’m not saying you can’t be a nice guy off the field, but on the field I’m a little nastier, I guess,” Taylor said. “I would have let him go and get his own shoe.”

That’s just not Tyler.

“What’s the point of just throwing it?” Tyler asked this week when told of Taylor’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek criticism. “I thought I’d give it back to him, thought I’d be a nice guy about it. It’s football. I like to have fun. I’m not one of those guys who are nuts and crazy on the field and is always screaming and yelling.”

The 6-foot-1, 236-pound junior from Oakton, Va., is always making tackles. In the Hokies’ season-opening 20-17 overtime win against Georgia Tech, Tyler recorded 17 stops. In Saturday’s 42-7 romp of FCS Austin Peay, he led the team with eight tackles.

All this from a player who was slated to be a backup before junior Tariq Edwards wasn’t ready to start the year after offseason leg surgery.

But Edwards is working himself closer to a return, meaning Virginia Tech will have Edwards, Taylor and Tyler for two spots. What will happen then?

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Tyler said. “Obviously, I want to play. That’s everyone’s goal. I’m going to keep playing my best. If my best isn’t good enough, so be it. Right now, I’m the starter. I’m going to keep practicing, keep training as if I’m the starter. I’m going to keep preparing that way until someone tells me otherwise.”

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said he can envision using the trio of inside linebackers the way he used Xavier Adibi, Mikal Baaqee and Vince Hall in 2004. That season, Adibi was used largely to give Baaqee and Hall rest, keeping all three players fresh.

“In a perfect world, if they’re all healthy, you’ve got three guys who’ve played a lot of big games that can go and play at a high level and not miss a beat,” Foster said.

It’s clear that Tyler, a one-time walk-on, has impressed Foster, who called him “the best player on the field” after the Georgia Tech game.

Tyler, a die-hard Redskins fan who joked he was so impressed by Robert Griffin III’s NFL debut, he was buying Super Bowl tickets for February in New Orleans, said he was bombarded by congratulatory text messages and emails from friends and fans in Northern Virginia after his big performance against Georgia Tech.

Tyler said the win over Georgia Tech was more satisfying than his biggest high school performance, when he recorded 36 tackles in a game when he was a junior. He had 21 before halftime of a win over Robinson High, and said he didn’t play the final 8-10 minutes.

It was the only tape Tyler sent to Virginia Tech when he was hoping to be recruited.

Now, he’s the Hokies’ leading tackler. Even if Taylor thinks his on-field demeanor needs some work.

“Apparently that’s how you play good defense,” Tyler said with a laugh. “You have to throw shoes at people.”

Read more about the Hokies at TimesDispatch.com

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