Devils' Defense Banking on Burks

This year's change in the team's defensive alignment brought back the middle linebacker position. For Justin Burks, it meant returning to a role, which earned him lofty accolades at Cerritos (Calif.) junior college. Thus, to no one's surprise he has been excelling ever since, and told DevilsDigest that he's feeling more comfortable than ever now that he's in a familiar spot.

In 2003, Justin Burks, a starter in all 12 games, ranked third on the team in total tackles (78) and averaged 6.5 stops a game. Nevertheless, he was far from content with his performance last season. "When you're a JC transfer, you're just trying to get used to everything your first year," he said. "Now, I'm trying to get it done, keep on working hard so I can have better year than last year. Second year - you have to take it to the next level."

Thus far, the senior seems to be on the right track to fulfill his goal. He has errand the praise of his coaches, and is an integral part of a defense, which in fall practice seems to be rejuvenated under a new scheme. For Burks personally, simplicity and familiarity are catalysts for his improved play. "In the spring, I was trying to get used to everything," he explained. "I was just feeling out my position. At middle linebacker, there's no more shuffling side to side. It's all about coming down hill through the middle or backpedaling down the field. It's the same thing I did at Cerritos. I'm just trying to emulate Ray Lewis (smile)."

The ASU linebackers group is rated by some media outlets as one the weakest units in the conference. Burks ignores those critical pundits because what he sees on the field offers a lot of promise. "We're coming together real well as a group," he remarked. "Jamar (Williams) and Dale (Robinson) are playing well, and we have some good players behind them like Mark Washington and ‘Big Baby' DeAndre Johnson. This is a much better group of players than last year"

The clouds of doubts are not only exclusive to the linebackers in specific, but also to the entire Sun Devil defense. The senior likes to play with a chip on his shoulder, and believes that the naysayers are in for a surprise in 2004. "We got so many seniors this year, I know we'll do better," he said. "All of us are working hard as a team, and you can see players playing better than last season. We hear all that talk about the defense being this and that, so we do have something to prove this year. We know how good we can be."

Burks and the rest of his teammates are only a couple of days away from leaving the pines of Camp Tontozona, and coming back to Tempe to prepare for the fall semester and the upcoming season. The senior will bid farewell to the ASU landmark, and will always have found memories of it. "It's nice scenery," he commented. "I'm gonna miss this place. I wish I could bring up my girlfriend and son up here to check it out. But up here it's all business. We need to get to work, finish (the camp) strong, and be a better team." If the defense as a whole improves as Burks has individually, the prospects of a positive turnaround look promising.

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