Michigan linebackers Shawn Crable and Prescott Burgess had Wolverine fans giddy last fall and not only because the two Ohio natives spurned the Buckeyes to play for the Maize and Blue. Supremely talented ballplayers in high school – Burgess was ranked sixth overall in the nation, Crable 39th by Rivals.com – the duo had the potential to make an immediate impact as freshmen.
It didn't work out that way, though. Week in and week out Crable tested a shoulder injured during fall camp. Week in and week out he poured out of the tunnel dressed in street clothes, sidelined for the day.
Many recruiting experts, including Rivals', rated Burgess the top safety in the nation after an impressive senior season at Warren Harding. But even during his recruitment there was talk of Burgess making the move to linebacker.
He tried quickly to squash such rumors, and even cited the ability to play safety as a reason he was picking Michigan, but midway through the 2003 season Burgess had changed positions.
Despite his raw athleticism, Burgess, who is up to 232 pounds, didn't warrant much playing time because he struggled picking up the minute details of the linebacker position. He fought with himself, too, as he longed for a return to safety; a return to what was comfortable.
"When I first got here and the coaches asked me about playing linebacker I told them I wanted to stay where I was," Burgess said. "They didn't fight with me on that, but I saw myself getting bigger and I saw my potential at linebacker was maybe better than it was at safety, so finally I agreed to move."
While rehabbing his shoulder and gaining weight, Crable also picked up new responsibilities, albeit not as drastic as Burgess. An outside linebacker by trade, Crable – in the 3-4 defense – must rush the passer on certain downs. He had blitzed in high school, tallying 23 sacks in his final two prep seasons, but he had never actually rushed the quarterback.
"It was kind of weird the first time I rushed because in high school I was always sneaking through a seam or just going around the tackle – now they [the U-M coaches] wanted me to put my hands on the offensive lineman and work through him or around him," Crable said. "I really thought I knew how to get to the quarterback, but I'm learning how to rush the quarterback."
From the moment Burgess and Crable stepped foot on campus, they were met with enormous expectations, but now with a year of experience – Burgess in a limited role and Crable redshirting – both believe they are capable of making a substantial impact this fall.
"It's different now for both Shawn and me," Burgess said. "We've got that year under our belts, we know what we're doing, we feel comfortable out on the field, so we think we can do something. We're both fast guys. We're athletic and we're big and we can help this team win."
Neither linebacker knows if they'll start or even how often they'll play, but both will be ready.
"The coaches will determine who plays, but really I'm just trying to get on the field," Crable said. "Once I get on the field I'll be ready to contribute anyway I can. Wherever the coaches put me I'll execute to the best of my ability."
Crable is the likely backup to incumbent starter Pierre Woods at one of the two outside linebacker positions in the 3-4 defense. Burgess is competing with incumbent Lawrence Reid at inside linebacker, but with two inside positions he is also competing with Scott McClintock, David Harris and Chris Graham for a spot.
"Both Shawn and I just want to get on the field – we want to get our chance," Burgess said. "We've both got a lot of enthusiasm because when we got here we were ready to get going. It takes a little time – there is so much you have to learn and prove to the coaches you're capable of doing, but we've been doing that. We're excited. We want to make some plays."