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Carolina Panthers

Brian Burns working to lead defense "from good to great"

Brian Burns

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Brian Burns believes in the way energy spreads across the Panthers' defense.

It's contagious the way one takeaway leads to another, Burns said. Big plays seem to come in succession; one forced fumble follows another, and that momentum carries.

And as a fourth-year veteran, Burns said these hot, mid-morning practices in Spartanburg are where he expects this year's team culture – that infectious energy and focused mentality – to be born.

"We kind of feed off each other," Burns said after Carolina's first practice at Wofford on Wednesday. "We're going to start that culture now, in camp, from the jump, so when we get into the season, it's the standard."

Takeaways are one of the ways head coach Matt Rhule will look to measure as he aims for this year's Carolina defense to move "from good to great."

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow has the Panthers moving in a positive direction, as Carolina's total defense has jumped from 18th in 2020 to 2nd in 2021, Snow's first and second years.

While that improvement is substantial, Rhule said Carolina's defense is also focused on upping two other marks — red zone defense and creating turnovers — as they work to make that "good to great" jump. For context, the Panthers finished last season ranked 30th in red zone touchdown percentage and 26th in turnovers forced.

"We're not good enough in the red zone or scoring defense, which is obviously what matters. That would be the number one thing," Rhule said. Number two is we have to create more turnovers. We want to lead the league in takeaways, and we have the guys to do it."

Veterans are where improvements start, and Rhule said he's looking for Burns to be one of the players who makes that "good to great" jump in 2022.

Brian Burns

Burns impressed Rhule with the way he showed up to OTAs this year, having added muscle and strength before workouts. Rhule said he saw Burns' commitment add an edge to his game as the defensive end looks to eclipse the 9.0 sack mark he has tallied in two consecutive seasons.

"His commitment – I talked about all spring – to me, that comes first," Rhule said. "His commitment to being great, I've seen it, and I'm excited about it."

As for Burns, he's excited to go into year three under Snow, as he feels that it's the perfect time to have all the final pieces put together.

Even after the first day of training camp, Burns said he feels like it's "moving more smoothly" for the defense this season.

"Being in the system for three years now, there shouldn't be any more communication errors," he said. "Anything about beating ourselves should be out of the window. That will take us from good to great.

"Once you get to that great level, the only thing that can beat you is a great play from the offense. There won't be any self-inflicted problems."

Burns' excitement to be back to training camp is palpable, and he's looking for big plays to build off each other throughout the Panthers' stay in Spartanburg – whether it be creating turnovers, getting big stops, or coming up with more sacks.

"I'm always looking for more sacks," Burns said. "That's just going to come with really perfecting my craft, honing in on details, and having deliberate practices."

Check out action photos from the Panthers first day of training camp at Wofford.

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