Bulked up Brian Burns ready for bigger role in second season

Brian Burns

CHARLOTTE — Defensive end Brian Burns got off to a hot start as a rookie, making the most of his significant snaps early in 2019. He recorded 4.5 sacks in his first six games, but a moment in the middle of the stretch affected the rest of Burns' rookie season.

Midway through the first quarter of Carolina's Week 4 win at Houston, Burns used his left hand to tip a punt off the foot of Bryan Anger. While the punt went only 19 yards, Burns didn't entirely block it. In frustration, he slammed his right fist three times on the NRG Stadium field and injured his wrist.

Burns had a minor procedure to address the injury's lingering effects during the bye in Week 7. He first wore a club to protect the wrist, significantly affecting how he could play as a defensive end, especially against the run. Even as he advanced to less-restrictive protective gear, his playing time went down. After playing at least 57 percent of defensive snaps in the first four weeks, Burns eclipsed 50 percent only once more the rest of the season. In that game, Carolina's Week 9 win over Tennessee, Burns didn't have any defensive stats despite being on the field for 71 percent of plays.

During a virtual conference call on Wednesday, Burns was asked if he blamed himself for what happened. He said no, calling football an emotional sport. And while he disagreed with the assertion 2019 was a wasted season, Burns admitted the injury was detrimental.

"Having a cast on limited me from grabbing and being able to have a firm grip on the blocker, or running back or whoever it is," Burns said. "Toward the end of the season, it was getting better. But it did limit me quite a bit being in the position that I play."

But that's history. Burns is now healthy after an offseason with therapy and exercises. He has goals to build off what he did as a rookie, but he's not sharing those.

"My goals are kind of classified. I can't really put those out there," he said with a grin. "Ultimately, I really just want to win more games than we did last year and just have a great season."

Burns did reveal he's gained around 15 pounds this offseason and wants to play at about 255 this year, up from his listed weight of 250. He also spent time working on his hands — both for pass-rushing and takeaways — and his technique against the run. He sprinkled in some work dropping into coverage, too, just in case.

Burns should have an easier time implementing those improvements playing beside veteran defensive tackle Kawann Short and rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown.

"I need those guys, man," Burns said with a laugh. "They're going to take up a lot of attention, and hopefully, I'll have a lot of one-on-ones on the outside."

"I need those guys, man," Burns said with a laugh. "They're going to take up a lot of attention, and hopefully, I'll have a lot of one-on-ones on the outside."

Heading into his second season, Burns expects his role to be reasonably similar in coordinator Phil Snow's new scheme. He likes that Snow and head coach Matt Rhule emphasize versatility, feeling it's one of his strengths.

"I mean, we can pretty much plug me in anywhere," Burns said. "It's going to be a lot to come with this defense. It's not going to be easy to stop, in my opinion."

Burns turned 22 in April, but even as a young player, he feels he can become more of a leader. He said it's about how a player carries himself and how he holds others accountable.

To that end, Burns has been passing on lessons from his first season to the Panthers' all-defensive 2020 draft class.

"I just tell them don't wait. Don't wait to take care of your body. Don't wait to get into the treatment room (or) wait to watch film. Take advantage of it now," Burns said. "Don't be that rookie that's like, 'I'll do it later.' No, do it now. And I just gave them little tips on game-time situations, what would happen if you do this, or what would happen if you do that."

Burns understands this unique training camp, and this season, in general, will be challenging, especially considering all players are still learning the scheme. But he also said "really" three times to describe how excited he is for Year 2.

"Just to be back, just be with the guys, No. 1, and No. 2 to get some quality work in the weight room and just hone in on my skills," he said.

With his wrist healthy and a full offseason under his belt, Burns now hopes to take an up and down rookie year to a fully upward trajectory in 2020.

View photos from Tuesday's walk-through on the practice field at 2020 training camp.

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