CSR talks with Wally Burnham

Cyclone Sports Report goes one-on-one with Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham on the players that have shown the most improvement during camp, the strengths and weaknesses of the defense, and how not having David Sims for the Northern Illinois game will change the defense.

Cyclone Sports Report: What is the number one thing that you want the defense to accomplish in your first game against Northern Illinois?

Coach Burnham: Well this game will allow us to see how far that we have come. We're so young and I'm sure there will be some weak spots but overall this will give us a true evaluation of what kind of team that we can become this season. I'm sure we'll make some mistakes that we won't make later in the year but overall I feel good about our defense. I feel we have accomplished a lot since last spring.

Cyclone Sports Report: Which starter from last year has improved the most heading into the 2010 season?

Coach Burnham: I would say Stephen Ruempolhamer even though he wasn't a full-time starter last season. He's clearly a different player from last season and I expect him to do a great job this year. I also think Leonard Johnson is also really improved. The key with both is whether they can carry their improvement on to the field Thursday night against Northern Illinois.

Cyclone Sports Report: Which non-starter from last season will likely make the biggest impact on the defense this year?

Coach Burnham: I would say three guys. Jake Knott has had a really good fall camp. He didn't play much last year but he has shown great improvement. Bailey Johnson has also really play well especially the last couple of weeks. So much so that he passed Jake (McDonough) on the depth chart. I still expect Jake to really help us but Bailey has just played better. Then there is Michael O'Connell who knows he is the starter now and is playing with a lot of confidence. Of course the key is whether these guys can step up when the lights come on Thursday night.

Cyclone Sports Report: Which true freshman has stuck out the most this fall?

Coach Burnham: The only one right now has been Jeremiah George. It doesn't mean that he's going to play but he's currently a second team linebacker so we are pushing him as hard as we can to be ready to play in our base defense or on special teams.

Cyclone Sports Report: Last spring you told me you were concerned about the pass rush. How do you feel about it now heading into the season?

Coach Burnham: I feel it has gotten better but we don't have the dominant pass rusher that some teams have in our league. We have put more pressure on the quarterback this fall and have gotten more sacks. It is going to be a matter of bringing a fifth and sixth guy on occasion which we can do because we have better blitzers this year. The linebackers and safeties are going to have to do a good job on our zone blitzes.

Cyclone Sports Report: What is the strength of this defense?

Coach Burnham: I would say our secondary in that it's the spot in our defense where we have the most talent and the most depth. I feel we have four solid corners and four solid safeties that we can play. We have nothing like that at our other positions in regards to depth.

Cyclone Sports Report: What needs to improve in order for the defense to have a really good season?

Coach Burnham: Well it all starts up front and we have to make sure we don't get knocked off the ball. This year we have to do a better job of getting in our gaps and making plays. If plays consistently get to the second level where the opposition linemen are on our linebackers we are going to struggle.

Cyclone Sports Report: How does David Sims not playing against Northern Illinois change your defense?

Coach Burnham: Well right away it changes the rotation in our secondary in that it moves Jacques Washington who is a redshirt freshman into the rotation. You it hurts our depth and also he makes a lot of checks on our defense and so we will be missing that experience. He also brings a lot of toughness to his position. It will hurt us in that he's a physical player and Northern Illinois is a running team so he will definitely be missed.

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