The much maligned Michigan defense went into the offseason searching for answers to the problems that ailed it down the stretch in 2004. In past months some of those solutions have been have been discussed a great deal. The hiring of defensive line coach Steve Stripling and the utilization of more base 4-3 just are a couple of the changes that have already been highlighted ad nauseam. One that hasn't been spoken of quite as often has been the shuffling at the strongside linebacker position.
Helping Burgess in his move to the other side of the defense has been his increase in size and strength. The former high school safety has packed on the pounds, but insists that he hasn't lost a step in the process. "I'm up 245," said Burgess. "I've been trying to just prepare myself to be able to get off of blocks and make more plays. I've still got the speed. Aint nothing changed. That's one thing they thought would be a problem once I put on the weight. You work on speed everyday, so that hasn't been a problem for me. I just want to do whatever it takes to help this defense come out victorious."
Like Burgess, fellow strongside backer and good friend Shawn Crable has made progress in his physical maturation. The former Massillon standout currently tips the scales at 248-pounds and is anxious to make an impact after getting his feet wet last year. "I was excited," Crable said regarding getting the chance to play last season. "I was just happy to be out there. The coaches gave me the opportunity to be out there. I'm just hoping to do something more this year. I'm going to play a lot of linebacker. I've been asking and begging to play a little d-end sometimes. I did a lot of d-end stuff with Coach Stripling, especially on using my hands. I didn't really like him at first because he came from Michigan State (laughing). But seriously, he is a good guy. It's really whatever the coaches want to do. I'll line up at tackle if that's what I have to do to play (laughing)."
For Burgess the change has been a bit more involved. That said, now that he is lining up on the outside of the defense he feels right at home. "The thing about moving from safety to linebacker is everything is coming at you right now instead of you being able to see it and then react," Burgess explained. "But it has been good at linebacker. As far as moving from the weakside to the strongside, it's a great thing because I'm outside now and it's better for me as a playmaker. I'm keying one player instead of a bunch of different ones."
The success of both players has made for a very interesting and intense on-field battle throughout the spring and fall. Their rivalry, though, has always been a friendly one. Each of them insists that will continue to be the case. "It's real competitive, but that's it," Crable said. "During camp we're roommates. We always go home together. It's happy. Whenever he gets tired I'm in, and when I'm tired he's in. But I AM fighting for the starting the job and he is fighting for it too. May the best man win it."
"It's a coach's decision," Burgess said regarding who gets the nod as #1 from week to week. "I wish him all of the luck in the world and he does the same for me. We'll still be friends either way. Hopefully they'll see that we both deserve to be on the field."
The work ethic that both players have displayed makes the likelihood of each of them playing a great deal very high. The two friends have a firm understanding of what it takes to compete at Michigan and are now trying to impart that the newest crop of Wolverines, specifically fellow Ohioan Mario Manningham.
"He is looking pretty good," Burgess said of his former high school teammate. "He just has to know that he is not in high school anymore. It's more about getting up watching film and working on his technique, and getting his route running precise."
Crable echoed many of those same sentiments. "I expect him to do something nasty this year," Crable said. "I think he will show out. He just needs to get out of the high school mentality and get into the college receiver mentality. He'll be all right."
If the youngster heeds the sage advice of his two teammates, that will indeed