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Brian Burns hoping new defense plays into his "IQ"

Brian Burns

CHARLOTTE — There's a limit on what Brian Burns is able to do now as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery. But what he can do, he's doing with the same kind of energy he chases quarterbacks with.

While he's not practicing at the veteran minicamp this week — he's expected to be fine for the start of training camp in July — Burns remains a constant presence. He's been here throughout OTAs, and on Tuesday, he was lining up in the huddle with the defense before plays before slipping out and letting his understudies take the reps. And 20 minutes after practice, as he waited for his turn at the lectern to talk to reporters, he worked on the side with Yetur Gross-Matos, polishing pass-rush moves as they both work to transition to a new 3-4 defense.

Burns has always been a pass-rushing student (often talking with opponents long after games of joint practices to pick up tips). Now he gets to work alongside defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and veteran assistant Dom Capers, and this offseason has become a bit of a master class. He joked that he can be a tough student sometimes, but this staff has been "very open" about his questions and suggestions.

"At times, I can be very opinionated about certain things that we do," he said. "And they're very open, and they explain to me, they answer my questions very well. And I think we got a lot of smart guys, a lot of guys with a lot of experience on that on that staff. And things will be good for us."

Of course, it is a new system. Even though he dropped into coverage a decent amount his rookie year and again when former coordinator Phil Snow was calling plays, it's still an adjustment. But one that's suited to a player who loves to learn.

"Just being an outside linebacker, you see a lot more, and I feel like I'm able to use my IQ more than when my hand is in the dirt," he said. "Because I can see formations, I can see backfield sets and what I'm getting."

The idea of improvement is interesting, since he's still just 25 and coming off his best season (12.5 sacks). He's always shied away from making predictions or setting goals in public, but he had admitted in the past that getting to double digits was significant for him after being stuck at 9.0 each of the last two seasons.

So when he said Tuesday that he wanted to get 10 sacks in the first 10 games this year, that was as new as the zero jersey he was wearing on the field for the first time.

"A lot of new stuff going on," he said in reference to his hesitance to look into the future. Now, he's willing to step out there a bit as he becomes more confident of his place in the world.

He'll be even happier when he's able to play. The plan remains for him to be ready for the start of training camp. Burns had surgery in late April, after he didn't bounce back as quickly from a late-season ankle injury. He was held out of the regular season finale but recovered to participate in the Pro Bowl Games.

"It was nagging me, and after that, I was like, is something wrong?" He said. "Because it's not bouncing back like it usually does. I was like, damn, I'm only 25."

You couldn't tell he was feeling any older by his energy – but you could by his approach to the game, as he's already a veteran despite that young age.

"You know, when you first get here, as a rookie, you show up and shut up," Burns said. "And you play as you go along, you get stripes. And you know, I'm saying you go through games, and you get experience. Your IQ sharpens, and things may not make sense to you. But it makes sense to the coach; he's able to explain that maybe understanding from a different perspective. So that just comes with experience and IQ."

While Burns' athleticism is easy to see on tape, new coach Frank Reich hasn't been able to see it live yet. But he remains impressed with Burns and is eager to see him on the field, so he knows who it's fair to compare him to.

"I know he hasn't even taken a snap out here," Reich said. "But every time I see him walk out in the field, I said, 'Man, I'm glad he's on our team.' He's big and long and strong. I mean, I've got to see him play more, just kind of see who he reminds me of. But he's got a presence about him physically and mentally. . . .

"Because what I am learning about him is, you know, like most great players, he's very smart. He's very smart, period, but a very smart football player. So that allows us to do different things with him. And, you know, sure, we mainly want to rush the passer, but it does allow us to do other things, allows us to use them as rushing the passer in different ways. So we'll see how that all plays out."

Reich joked that it was a "bummer" not to be able to watch Burns on the practice field, but he liked the reps the absence leaves for Marquis Haynes Sr., Gross-Matos, Amaré Barno, and rookie DJ Johnson.

But make no mistake, Burns is the one they're waiting to see because of his status within the league. He's one of the top pass rushers, and entering the final year of his contract (though they could always franchise-tag him after this season), they've already started talking about extending him.

Burns wasn't getting into too many details beyond saying they were "having a conversation" and acknowledging that he thought he deserved to be in the top tier of pass-rushers, but he stopped short of estimating a timeline or parameters of the deal.

"I don't have a preference," he said. "Really, I'm just kind of blessed to be in that, that even in that talk and the opportunity to have that. So all right now just enjoying the process and enjoying everything that comes with it.

"I want to be a Panther. And like I said, I can't preach this any more, like I'm truly blessed to be in this position. You know, like, it's just like a dream come true. Just to be able to have these kinds of talks."

— Burns was among a group of players not participating in Tuesday's first minicamp practice, most of them players coming off injuries and offseason surgeries. Also in that group were cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Donte Jackson, safety Vonn Bell, wide receivers Damiere Byrd, Derek Wright, and Josh Vann, and offensive linemen Austin Corbett, Chandler Zavala, Larnel Coleman, and BJ Wilson.

Zavala's dealing with a pectoral strain, and Bell a hamstring, but Reich said neither was a concern as it pertained to training camp.

— The Panthers had three players in the minicamp as tryout players after they worked out for the team recently.

That group included tight end Jordan Matthews, and cornerbacks Greg Mabin and Thakarius Keyes.

Matthews, a former second-round pick of the Eagles (2014) as a wide receiver, has also spent time with the Bills, Patriots, and 49ers. He added weight and converted to tight end while with the 49ers but suffered a torn ACL last year and was out for the season.

Silver Club Seat PSL Owners were invited to Chalk Talk on June 6th. Hosted by team reporter Kristen Balboni, PSL Owners had their questions answered by head coach Frank Reich, defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.