BYU Defense Picks Up Where it Left Off in 2003

<b>JON BURBIDGE</b>

"We'll be able to do a lot more stuff this year since we know the system that much better. The guys up front are awesome and I'm very comfortable with the guys I'm playing with in the secondary."

That's the early word from likely starting safety Jon Burbidge, after practice today. "We're not doing everything as we should, of course. We will always have things we need to work on – and a lot of those things made themselves evident during today's practice. As long as we recognize that we need to work and sort those things out, we'll be fine," he said.

Burbidge confirmed the main advantage the Cougars' defense enjoys entering their second season under defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall is they can be even more aggressive and unpredictable than last year.

"What made it challenging last year was that there were no players on the squad that had played under that system. Now, we have a group of veterans, like me, to help them (newcomers) learn the system and the different things we do. They'll come along faster than we did last year," Burbidge added.

That may not be great news for offenses stifled and confused by Mendenhall's 3-3-5 defense that jumped the NCAA overall defensive rankings to a Top-20 ranking at No. 14 with most of the same defensive players from the 69th-overall defensive ranking in 2002.

"We're looking good, I think," Burbidge continued. "For a first day of practice, I don't think we've missed a beat from last fall. We've been able to pick up where we left off and go from there. We know what coach Mendenhall expects of us and we know better on how to prepare."

Joining the Cougars defensive ranks will be a bevy of newcomers, a number of whom are expected to contribute immediately this fall. Look for players like Vince Feula, Greg Lovely, Karland Bennett and Justin Luettgerodt to break the two-deep depth chart by the end of fall camp. There are at least five others that may also see playing time this fall, but decisions on them will be determined by their level of play during fall camp. Others will likely be redshirted.

"Hopefully, we can help these guys learn the system faster. Having them see players who have been in the system for a full season will help big time, Burbidge added. "As a senior or an upperclassman, I think you just naturally take on the leadership responsibility and lead in showing these guys what they need to do – not only schematically, but physically as well. There are a lot of high demands playing in this scheme and adjusting physically isn't easy, to be sure."

But he said he likes what he sees in the upgraded talent from junior college and high school ranks. "Some of these guys are great athletes and they're real eager to learn. Having young guys like them will help us in the long run."

Burbidge also commented on the off-season conversion of promising linebacker K.C. Bills to the safety position by Mendenhall, who said at the time he wanted to field his top 11 defensive players on the field – and Bills was too good athlete to sit behind middle linebacker Cameron Jensen.

"He's doing great," Burbidge said of Bills' quick adjustment to the secondary. "It's not easy to switch positions, especially in this system. It's a much different type of coverage moving from linebacker to safety. His attitude and hustle is, of course, there. It's just a matter of getting the bearings on his coverage. He likes to be real physical and he tends to be a little too aggressive on receivers. Sometimes it's good to be aggressive, but not all the time. He'll learn these things. KC is doing great and he's coming along great," he said.

Burbidge also spoke glowingly of Crowton's revamped offense and the new receivers, in particular. "They're really good. (Todd) Watkins, on the first play of the scrimmage, beat us deep. It was a simple mistake that we missed as a defense. We'll fix that, but the fact that they were able to capitalize on that mistake on the very first play is a great indicator of where this offense is and how good we can be as an offense."

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