CHARLOTTE – No, you weren’t seeing things.
That was indeed 6-foot-5, 250-pound edge rusher Brian Burns playing gunner against the Saints on Sunday.
“Big gunner,” Burns said with a smile.
The first-round pick first learned about his new special teams role at Wednesday’s practice.
“It was on the sheet. I saw my name there. I was like, ‘Alright, sure,’” said Burns, who had never before played gunner at any level. “I probably got one rep the whole week.”
That was apparently all the coaches needed to see.
Burns trotted out onto the field when the Panthers were forced to punt after a three-and-out to start the game. Michael Palardy hit a 47-yard punt, and Burns – the gunner on the left side – ran down to make the tackle on Alvin Kamara for a 2-yard loss.
(Burns is at the top of the screen in the all-22 video below).
“Just run to the ball. There ain’t much to it,” Burns said. “It was fun, honestly. I mean, those (jammers) are smaller, so they were obviously at a disadvantage. They’re faster than me, but I’m still fast.”
Burns ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, so yeah, he’s fast. And that size-speed combo is a lot to handle.
“With his athletic ability and his speed and quickness, he’s a guy who can be a benefit out there,” Rivera said of Burns lining up at gunner. “It’s a huge bonus to have a guy like that running downfield and being able to take a shot on a returner. Something good can possibly happen. We were pretty excited watching him run down.”
Burns said he got three reps at gunner during the course of the game.
“It’s something different. I like that. It was cool,” Burns said. “I’m just trying to get on the field and make something happen. That’s always my mindset.
“I’ll play receiver if I have to.”
Let’s not get too crazy. And Burns acknowledged he’d have a tough time playing receiver with a cast on one hand.
But that injured hand is getting better. On Monday, Burns said he had pins removed and maintains he’s been feeling much more like himself over the past few weeks.
Rivera liked what he saw in the 22 defensive snaps Burns had at New Orleans. The rookie added to his sack total by dropping quarterback Drew Brees for a 6-yard loss late in the game.
That’s sacks in back-to-back games for the rookie, although his strip-sack against Atlanta technically didn’t count because it occurred during a two-point attempt.
“I’m still kind of mad that didn’t count,” Burns said.
But the point remains – Burns appears to be recapturing his early-season form.
“Brian Burns played where he really wasn’t focusing on his hand,” Rivera said. “He was productive, he was active. He made a couple mistakes, but he did the things that you know he’s capable of. The nice thing is I think he’s past the hand (injury).”