ATLANTA - Ather Brown has waited a year for this opportunity.
Brown, a junior linebacker at Georgia Tech, was a starter last season before breaking his foot against Duke in the season's fifth game. The injury cost him the rest of his sophomore season and spring drills.
It also cost him his starting spot.
Now, an injury to outside linebacker Keyaron Fox has put Brown back in the starting lineup for Saturday's home game with Virginia.
"I've been waiting on it all year, ever since last year, really, when I got hurt," Brown said. "I've been waiting to come back and get ready to play."
He isn't the only newcomer to Georgia Tech's linebacking corps this week. With middle linebacker Daryl Smith nursing an injured left shoulder, Matthew Etheridge has been practicing with the first-team defense.
Brown started all 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2000 and was sixth on the team with 48 tackles. Last year, he started four games and recorded 14 tackles before breaking his foot.
The injury and Fox's good play made it impossible for him to return to the lineup. Fox, who sprained his ankle against Maryland and is expected to miss three to four weeks, is second on the team with 50 tackles.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Brown took over for Fox against Maryland and recorded two tackles. He's been practicing with the first-team defense all week.
"His recognition wasn't great last week. I bet he'll be much more comfortable this week in the game," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "When you're the backup, you don't take a lot of snaps. You have a lot better feel for the game and the game plan if you've taken every snap during the week."
Brown, a regular on Georgia Tech's special teams, has been removed from that role for prominent play on defense. The Yellow Jackets' defensive scheme moves Brown from outside linebacker into more of a pass rusher in throwing situations.
"You really understand the plays. You get to see them, you can visualize them, you can recognize what's coming at you because you've seen them so many times during practice," he said.
Etheridge, a 6-foot, 222-pound senior, has impressed teammates and coaches with his knowledge of the defense.
"He's been there knowing everything in case, and now it's in case," Gailey said. "He's kind of our glue guy. He can keep it all tied together for us because he can play any of the linebacker spots and probably most of the special team spots."
Though his contributions have been limited to special teams this season, Etheridge saw time at middle linebacker last year when Smith was injured against Clemson.
Smith, Georgia Tech's leading tackler with 51 tackles, did not practice aftersuffering the injuryTuesday and is considered questionable for Saturday. Gailey called him a "game-time decision."
"If he's not ready to go, then I'll be ready to step in and fill the void," Etheridge said. "You always have to be ready, always have to prepare yourself mentally and physically to play, because never know what's going to happen during the course of the game."
Reach Brian Murphy at (706) 744-4208.