Commitment Impact: Ben Burr-Kirven

Washington picked up their second commit in as many days this week, and 13th overall for 2015 when Ben Burr-Kirven, a 6-foot, 200-pound linebacker prospect from Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, Calif. pledged to the Huskies Wednesday night. What kind of player is Burr-Kirven? And how does his commitment affect their scholarship numbers going forward?

What is UW Getting in Burr-Kirven? - Here is what Scout.com National Recruiting Analyst Brandon Huffman said of Ben Burr-Kirven: “Burr-Kirven isn’t the biggest linebacker. In fact, it’s safe to say he's undersized as a backer, just cracking 6-feet tall and being around 200 pounds. But he’ll hit you like he’s a true, classic linebacker and plays really physically. While he may be built more like a safety, he plays like a linebacker, good stuffing the run and dropping into coverage, plays instinctively and with a high football IQ that helps him quickly diagnose a play. He moves really well in space and is quick sideline-to-sideline.

“He’ll have the chance to play early on special teams because of his quickness, motor and desire to hit. But he’ll probably best serve redshirting to add more weight and be able to handle the Pac-12. Still, from a football standpoint, while he may lack key measurables, he has the skill, motor and attitude plus the smarts to play right away. He’s a classic football player.”

If you want to see film of Burr-Kirven in action from 2013, click HERE. Burr-Kiven posted an amazing 204 tackles (136 solo), seven tackle-for-loss, six sacks and four interceptions - leading to Player of the Year honors by the San Jose Mercury-News, as well as pre-season All-State first team honors.

The part about Burr-Kirven playing early on special teams is an interesting note, because - as we’ve seen so far this year the Washington coaches are all about putting extra emphasis on special teams as a full third of the game. They reward special teams play with the P.A.C.K. flag and all that goes with it, so if Burr-Kirven does indeed take to special teams quickly that will mean more opportunities to play defense sooner, rather than later.

The commitment of Burr-Kirven smells like classic OKG, but not necessarily for the reasons many might assume. The Ivy League interest presumes smarts, and he’s going to have to be smart if he plans on quarterbacking a Pac-12 defense. That’s essential for any linebacker that plans to do anything under Bob Gregory.

In my opinion, this commitment reeks of ‘development’ - and that’s not a bad thing at all. Petersen’s reputation, in part, has been staked on taking risks on kids that may not normally stand out, but they project them to be exactly what they are looking for a couple of years. It happened with a couple of recent NorCal linebackers that turned out pretty good for the Huskies: Donald Butler and Mason Foster.

In this case, Burr-Kirven is undersized, yet has room to get bigger, faster, stronger - and he’s already pretty fast by linebacker standards, claiming a 4.49 40. He may not be as big as John Timu was coming out of high school, but there are some similarities when it comes to his athleticism.

Another factor to consider in Burr-Kirven's recruitment is that he comes from a smaller, private school. Smaller schools can be tough to recruit from simply because you're not exactly sure what you're getting on film. A prospect may look all-world, but that may be as much to the fact that the opposition just plain sucks. That's why it's typically much easier to recruit from bigger public schools in known, talent-rich areas. Burr-Kirven's film is very good, but how good are the teams that play Sacred Heart Prep? Needless to say, Burr-Kirven is a player that was on Petersen's radar while at Boise State, so he's a guy this staff has put a lot of time into analyzing and determining just exactly what the tape is telling them. And it's telling them that he's a Pac-12 prospect. Clearly Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah agreed.

From that standpoint, Burr-Kirven could be Washington's answer to Will Derting - a player from the lower leagues that comes and an makes an impact by his redshirt freshman year. Only time will tell if he's an instant contributor or a guy that benefits from a year or two inside a Pac-12 strength and conditioning program.
What Does This Do For Washington’s Numbers Going Forward? - Burr-Kirven’s commitment means the Huskies already have a baker’s dozen in the bag for 2015, but they aren’t done by a long shot. As of this week, a basic count of the scholarships on Washington’s roster leaves them with 82 on scholarship. I count 16 seniors set to depart after the 2014 season: James Atoe, Jesse Callier, DiAndre Campbell, Mike Criste, Travell Dixon, Michael Hartvigson, Micah Hatchie, Andrew Hudson, Evan Hudson, Hauoli Kikaha, Ben Riva, Drew Schultz (put on scholarship this fall), Danny Shelton, Colin Tanigawa, John Timu, and Kasen Williams. I’m not including Deontae Cooper on this list because he is expected to be back.

But in a maximum-case scenario - if Cooper was included, as well as juniors Shaq Thompson and Marcus Peters because of their NFL interest - that could bump the departures up to 19 total. Add in the three they are already short to get to the 85-scholarship limit, and you can see not much attrition will be required for the Huskies to get to 85.
What Does This Do For Linebacker Class Balance Going Forward? - The linebacker numbers are a bit skewed this year compared to years’ past because of this hybrid ‘BUCK’ position created for players like Kikaha, Jarett Finau, and Psalm Wooching. A guy like true freshman Jaylen Johnson should be considered a BUCK of the future.

Add those four already into a mix that includes Timu, Thompson, Travis Feeney, Cory Littleton, Keishawn Bierria, Scott Lawyer, Azeem Victor, Connor O’Brien, Sean Constantine, and Drew Lewis - the linebacking corps looks pretty healthy.

Wooching and Johnson appear to be the heirs apparent to Kikaha, so there’s balance at that spot. Timu will be lost in the middle, but Lawyer and Victor pick his spot up in 2015. Thompson’s expected to leave for pro ball, but Littleton and Constantine are listed as his backups right now.

The redshirt freshman class is the key class that will be counted on for the next few years, but only Lewis is behind them right now. The Huskies will lose likely three linebackers for this year (Kikaha, Timu, and Thompson), and four in 2015 (Feeney, Finau, Lawyer, and Littleton). Losing seven guys at a position group in two years is a hit, and outside of the redshirt frosh class they don’t have much else. UW brought on a couple walk-on linebackers in Matt Preston and Jake Wambaugh, and you always hope you can find a success story in one of those players earning his keep, but Gregory can’t count on that happening.

That’s why it was important for UW to start stockpiling linebackers like they did defensive backs for 2014. They aren’t in those kind of dire straits at this point, but an injury or two could seriously cripple the group. It wouldn’t be surprising to find three linebackers for the 2015 class as a ‘like for like’ move numbers-wise, and they may even go for one more if they feel they can balance the class numbers out a little bit by playing one of them early.

Getting a player like Burr-Kirven also fits a specific need in the linebacking group, so there’s no crossover with Kyler Manu’s commitment and shouldn’t effect Washington’s ability to go after other coveted linebackers like Dedrick Young (who just officially visited UW), D.J. Beavers, Eddie Rudinski, Anthony Camargo, Jeremiah Ieremia, and others. Scott Eklund is on record saying he believes Ieremia will commit to Washington before Signing Day, so he could be the final piece of the 2015 linebacking puzzle. Or there could be one more piece on top of that.

Either way, Gregory has room to maneuver. He can add a few more to his room without breaking the bank or the numbers. It’s just a matter of who he thinks will play right away so he can balance out the numbers effectively like Jimmy Lake is trying to do for the defensive backs this year.


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