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Vanderbilt Defense Top Five: Oren Burks

Over the next few days, VandyMania will discuss Vanderbilt's top five offensive and defensive players. Today we'll take a look at Fairfax Station, Virginia native Oren Burks.

Oren Burks has shown to be a flexible team player while moving from linebacker to safety and then to the safety-linebacker hybrid star position in head coach Derek Mason's defense.  As the team's interception leader from a year ago, he excelled at the position, finishing third on the team with 59 tackles.  Burks was second on the team with nine passes defended and earned Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in the win over Kentucky.

Burks made two outstanding plays in that victory over Kentucky in 2015.   The first came at the 0:50 mark in the video below when cornerback Torren McGaster tips a pass to keep it in bounds before Burks dives on it for an interception.  This kind of awareness and playmaking ability is part of the reason he's been named to multiple awards watch lists and is a Wuerffel Trophy nominee.  His high football IQ translates to places off the field like it did at SEC Media Days, where Burks earned praise from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and became the event's spokesman for sensitive social issues.

On the very next play, at the 1:05 mark in the same video, Burks reads the route perfectly and jumps it for a 30-yard interception returned for a touchdown and his second of the night.  He was a huge part of the multiple goal line stands and without Burks, the 21-17 win over the Wildcats probably turns into a loss.

The redshirt junior's arm span seems huge in the next video at the 05:25 mark when he stops the Rebels opening drive early by leaping and coming away with his third interception of the year.  6-foot-3 Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram can only watch as Burks launches into the air to help Vanderbilt win the early field position battle.  This turnover allowed the 'Dores to flip the field and score the first points of the game.

The star position is a hybrid with linebacker responsibilities and he flourishes in that position in the video above at the 51:32 mark,  Burks reads the play and pounces behind the line of scrimmage to make a tackle for a three-yard loss.  It has been clear that coach Mason prefers size and length and Burks is another perfect example of why those attributes can succeed in his defensive scheme.  The Commodores ranked sixth in the nation in defensive third down conversion percentage, ahead of Alabama.  Having multiple players like Oren Burks, who are capable of stopping the run and dropping into pass coverage opens more options for any defense.


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