The Gomez Files: Linebackers

Aug. 21, 2003

By Brian GomezTheSunDevils.com

PAYSON, Ariz. -- Gone are the trio of headline-grabbers who highlighted ArizonaState's linebacking corps last season, leaving a void filled this year by a groupnot seeking the attention of its predecessors.

Sophomore Jamar Williams and junior college transfer Justin Burks may notcarry as much notoriety as graduated seniors Mason Unck, Solomon Bates and JoshAmobi, but their willingness to learn is unmatched and their potential forsuccess is just as high.

'I'm going to have a lot more depth,' said Sun Devil defensive coordinatorBrent Guy, whose linebacking corps also include sophomore Barton Hammit andfreshmen Jordan Hill, DeAndre Johnson and Mark Washington. 'The playing field is alittle more leveled, whereas those other three guys separated themselves, andwe played them all the time.'

Like last year, ASU's linebackers believe unity will lead to results.Williams (No. 4) even changed his jersey number so that it's one digit off from thatof Burks (No. 5), representing the pair's desire to run the 40-yard dash in4.5 seconds.

Most people would be skeptical about having to replace so many linebackers,however, Williams made a name for himself last season while Burks did the sameat Cerritos Community College in Norwalk, Calif.

Williams and Burks don't mind not receiving the respect of those who donnedthe maroon and gold before them.

'I use it as motivation,' Williams said. 'I like the fact that nobody knowshow good our linebackers are going to be. I like the fact that they think wedon't have very much experience. I like the fact that that's a big question markon our team.

'We can't replace three great linebackers. All I can do is take in what theygave me and try to give it to the rest of the guys. I know I can play ballwithout them.'

As a true freshman last season, Williams modeled his game after each of ASU'sthree linebackers. He learned technique from Unck. He became a better hitterthrough Bates. And he developed athleticism via Amobi.

This is the time when the tools of the trade begin to pay off for Williams,who recorded 37 tackles (20 solo) in 13 games last year. He's attempting toduplicate the big-play potential he showed at San Diego State when he made fourtackles and blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone for the go-aheadscore.

'Now that I've got the defense down, I'm working on my quickness,' saidWilliams, who added about 20 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame in the off-season. 'I'mjust trying to get the game down because you can never know enough. I'm tryingto know more than anybody else on the field.'

Grasping ASU's 4-2-5 defense has been the biggest challenge for Burks, whosejunior college team ran a 4-3 defense last fall. He'll be asked to do muchmore this year, especially as a probable starter playing alongside Williams.

'I've got a lot of adjustments,' said Burks, who participated in springworkouts with the team after enrolling at ASU in January. 'I've got to startshuffling instead of coming downfield, and I've got more reads instead of just mylittle triangle.'

Burks likens his game to that of Bates, mainly because of his ability todeliver big hits. He anticipates that his footwork will improve in time for ASU'sseason opener against Northern Arizona.

'I've got to try to stay flat instead of going downhill because when I godownhill I get all chalked up in the linemen,' Burks said.

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@asu.edu or visit him online at his website.

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