Panthers hope rookie Brian Burns will excel in 3-4 defense
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Ron Rivera felt Brian Burns would be a perfect fit for the Carolina Panthers as an edge rusher in the team’s new 3-4 defense scheme after pouring over his college game tape.
And when Burns fell to the Panthers at No. 16 in the draft, Rivera was elated.
Nothing has dampened the ninth-year head coach’s enthusiasm watching Burns move around in full pads during the past couple of days of training camp at Wofford College.
In fact, Rivera is only getting more excited by the day over what Burns could bring to a defense that was 27th in the league in sacks last season.
“You see the great first-step quickness, you see the length and you see him going out and making plays and doing the things that we expect him to do,” Rivera said.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Burns has unusually long arms — almost 34 inches — and has already shown a quick burst off the ball, beating several offensive linemen during individual pass rush drills.
In a couple of cases, he’s left tackles flailing at the air as he moves by them.
Burns has a chance to make a huge impact as a rookie with a unit that includes Kawann Short and Gerald McCoy at the defensive end spots, proven pass rusher Mario Addison also on the line and Luke Kuechly working as one of the two inside linebackers.
With all of that talent opposing offenses will have to choose which players to double team, and the Panthers expect Burns could see plenty of 1-on-1 pass rushing opportunities early in the season.
“One-on-one, I’m going to pick me every time,” Burns said.
Burns’ arm length not only allows him to keep opposing linemen away from his body, but also presents problems for opposing quarterbacks who try to throw over him.
Despite playing on a Florida State team that struggled to score points last season and failed to reach a bowl game for the first time since 1981, Burns still managed to make an impact.
He had 52 tackles and 10 sacks to lead the Seminoles.
And when the Panthers watched the tape, they repeatedly saw Burns making plays despite the Seminoles often trailing by unusually large margins.
General manager Marty Hurney said Burns has a “huge ceiling.”
“He’s got some elite skill-set traits that are hard to find,” Hurney said. “He needs to develop as he grows and his body matures — he needs to get stronger — but you can’t coach some of the traits he has. The speed. The length. The change of direction.”
Said Rivera: “It’s like, ‘You can’t teach speed?’ Well, you also can’t teach length. It helps you get to where you need to be quicker.”
Rivera said the next thing for Burns will be learning “other things,” including dropping into coverage in order for him to develop into a complete 3-4 outside linebacker.
But that will come in time.
Right now the Panthers need Burns to get pressure on the quarterback and help fill the void left by Julius Peppers. Burns is doing his part, taking in as much knowledge as he can from a front seven filled with Pro Bowlers.
“It’s a valuable resource and I’m just trying to pick their brains to figure out how they got there (to the Pro Bowl), just their techniques basically,” Burns said.
Burns said it also helps that everyone on the defense is trying to learn the new scheme Rivera is installing, not just him.
Everyone has been trying to help each other out, he said.
“Everybody is learning at the same pace, but in the end we’re all learning and getting better at the playbook because it’s new to all of us,” Burns said.