Coach Burns talks on the SJSU defense for '09

Jarron Gilbert, Chris Owens, Coye Francis. These are names that will not be seen on the defensive side of the ball in 2009 for San Jose State. Defensive coordinator Keith Burns spoke on Sunday with Inside Sparta about what he envisions for the defense in the absence of his departed stars from 2008.

San Jose State defensive coordinator Keith Burns immediately stated the obvious after practice on Sunday. The first thing Spartans fans will notice missing on defense in 2009 are former SJSU standouts defensive end Jarron Gilbert and defensive backs Christopher Owens and Coye Francis. All three are projected to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft. "The overall scheme and what we're trying to approach will be the same," he said. "Just the guys doing it will be different."

Burns is looking to improve on an impressive squad that finished 2008 No. 2 in rushing, passing, and overall defense. "We're excited about where we've been," he said. "But we know that we need to get better to get to where we want to go."

Several defensive starters have been held out of spring practice due to injuries. The list includes senior defensive linemen Adonis Davis and Carl Ihenacho, senior linebacker Mohamed Marah, and junior linebacker Ryno Gonzales. However, Burns said that with those starters out, it will give him and the defensive staff a chance to evaluate some of the younger players. "We're developing depth," he said. "This is a great time for the young guys. We're real excited about the depth."

One of the young players who is standing out this spring is sophomore defensive tackle Pablo Garcia. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound San Jose native is showing the coaches he is ready to play. "I love Pablo," Burns said. "He's one of those young guys that is getting all the plays he can. He's going to help us out a lot up front."

Burns still has a strong corp of upperclassmen leadership he will be counting on to carry the defense. "You count on your seniors to play the best football," he said. "I can't say enough about the linebackers – seniors Travis Jones, Justin Cole, and junior Pompey Festejo have done a really good job. In the secondary – junior Devin Newsome is a guy we're going to count on. They're veteran players and they have to play their best football. If they do that we'll be alright."

One of the most important things being worked on this spring, according to Burns, is tackling. "To me the toughest thing to do is tackle in the open field, particularly against a good ball carrier," he said. "We're working on angles and wrapping up and grabbing cloth. We continue to work on it every day."

He said that the squad will select captains during the season. Head coach Dick Tomey selects game captains, then at some point in the season he'll call for a vote of the players to select permanent captains. "We usually go for a while into the season," he said. "But it's been at different times of the year."

Don Hoekwater is the Publisher of Inside Sparta. You may contact Don with any questions, comments, or tips at

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