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Carolina Panthers

For Juston Burris, cut day has a different perspective

Juston Burris

CHARLOTTE — For every player whose dream comes true this week when they make an NFL roster, someone else's is shattered when they don't.

A year ago, Juston Burris was one of the ones on the wrong side of that transaction. Now, he's going to see if from the other side, and he's not looking forward to it.

The former Panthers safety is now working as a scouting intern for the team (as part of the NFL's Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship program), transitioning into the personnel operation after his own career ended after last season. So he knows how difficult this week is for the people involved, especially since he'll be one of the people helping players with paperwork and arrangements on their way out tomorrow.

He knows how hard these days are because he's experienced it first-hand and recently.

"Now it's about the team, it's the Carolina Panthers. It's not an individual thing. I think as a player, you look at it like they're cutting me. I think as a personnel guy, you look like you're trying to make the best roster decisions for the Carolina Panthers, and that doesn't make it any easier," he said. "But you know that it's a job that you have to do to create the best team. And, I think that's the only way I can go about it and look at it is like, hey, we're making the best roster decisions for the Carolina Panthers.

"And I'm just hopeful that everybody who doesn't make it latches on somewhere else. I think we have a good team, and I think there's going to be a lot of guys that get cut that are 53-man roster worthy or definitely worthy to be on some other teams."

Juston Burris

Of course, to be able to have that kind of perspective, Burris had to go through his own ups and downs as a player.

A former fourth-round pick of the Jets, he was cut four times during his NFL career, including last August 30 by the Panthers in the final cuts to get to the 53-man roster. He came back to the practice squad the next day and was activated to the roster in October because he was still a reliable player, but that wasn't what made him think about his next chapter in life.

He and his wife found out during last season — his seventh in the league — that they were expecting their first child, which made him think about everything differently. And when he suffered a concussion during the season, there were some conversations with his wife about their future that made his transition to the scouting world an easier call. His wife and mother were frightened, as families are when their loved ones go through injuries. Having the opportunity here helped ease a lot of minds at once.

"There are times, obviously, I wish I could still be out there," Burris said. "But, you know, you make some promises, and you have to look ahead to the future. So, it's tough in that regard, but I think it was kind of a good compromise. I'm still around, still in the game, even if I'm not playing. And that was important to me.

"But I knew I made that promise to them, and it was important for all of us."

He also made an impression on his bosses here. Burris was known as the kind of smart player who could pick up on offensive tendencies when he was in the back of a secondary. And general manager Scott Fitterer and assistant GM Dan Morgan — also a former player whose transition to the personnel world was hastened by injuries that shortened his playing career — had talked to him when he was playing about possible roles in the future.

"I had kind of talked to Dan and Scott last year, just kind of picking their brains about how they got into it, especially Dan being a former player," Burris said. "So when the opportunity presented itself, I called Scott and just kind of presented my case, told him what I wanted to do, and then he said there was this opportunity.

"I definitely love being around football. I love going to practice. I love being at the games. That's the biggest thing for me, just being around the game, right?"

Juston Burris

Understanding the game was the first step. Understanding that scouting is a different world is another one.

Morgan got his start with the Seahawks in 2010 as a scouting intern (working alongside Fitterer in what would become a close personal and professional relationship), and like Burris, was eager to dive in.

The life of an entry-level scout is not a glamorous one. You end up driving players to doctors' offices when they come in to take a physical. You end up doing a lot of paperwork. You might be making labels with players' names and information and attaching them to magnets one minute and watching film and writing reports the next. You might still be in the game, but you're also at your desk for a lot of long hours. You've traded tackling for typing.

"It's literally the ground floor, and that's where I started too," Morgan said. "So it's like you're driving guys to the airport. When you're a player, you're used to being the guy getting your ass kissed, right? And then all of a sudden, you're having to do all the dirty work.

"In that job, your ego has to be very low, and Juston is really good at that part of it."

During practices through the offseason and training camp, Burris was often set up near one of the more experienced scouts, learning to view the game from a different perspective. Because of the way he played — cerebrally, with a wide-angle view from the back of a secondary — he can pick up on little things that others don't. But he still has to learn how to see with new eyes.

Morgan said between learning the realities of life in the office (players might be here from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the season while leaving when it's dark outside is something scouts have to get used to) and the mechanics of evaluating players for a living, there's a transition there.

But it's one they believe Burris will be able to make, adding something to the organization.

"Every day, it's something new that you're learning," Morgan said. "So it's actually fun, you know because you're doing something you've never done before. It's like a whole new world."

And now, Burris is entering several of those at once.

His daughter Carrington was born in June, giving him a new reason to keep going in this business, to provide for a family that's bigger by one. It's tough to pull some of those long hours, and he said he's been fortunate to be surrounded by scouts who can help him with the transition of becoming a father as well as the career change. Morgan and vice president of player personnel Adrian Wilson can talk about transitioning from playing to scouting, but director of pro scouting Rob Hanrahan also shared perhaps some even more important lessons.

"I've had great conversations with everybody on the staff, especially Rob, who has some young kids. He said man, just make sure you're a dad first; that's been the biggest message," Burris said. "I know I'm going to be away. Obviously, with this business, I'm here in the office a lot, but just try to be as present as you can. And you know, just try to be a dad first."

Rob Hanrahan, Juston Burris

Of course, these days leading up to cuts have been busier than most, keeping him at his desk in the stadium for some long hours. Teams have to reduce 90-man rosters to 53 by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, meaning 1,200 people are becoming former players this week.

(The Panthers have already reduced the roster to 79, so they'll need to make 26 more moves in the next 24 hours.)

And for every one of those players, there's a file that needs to be updated, a magnet moved, paperwork done, and unfortunately, someone helped to the door. There's not one guy in the scouting department doing all the dirty work; they all have a hand in it at some level. And if he's involved in one of those difficult conversations tomorrow, Burris knows what he'll tell guys.

Having been through this process before, he knows that one door closing opens another. And having created a solid seven-year career as a player and now potentially a new one as a scout, he'll be able to share a bit of perspective with the players who get the unwelcome news tomorrow.

"It's definitely tough, and I've talked to some of the guys about it, guys that I played with last year," Burris said. "It's tough because I know what they're going through. I've been cut four times, and it just doesn't get easier because that's your livelihood. But I think I'm coming from a place where I understand where they're coming from. So, I try to talk to them through this whole process and just try to tell them to keep their heads up. I was in a situation where I got cut, and it ended up being the best thing ever for me. It ended up prolonging my career by years, just by going to a new organization.

"So I think it's just a situation that I can be a voice of reason for them. Just to tell them, hey, this isn't the end. Just keep your head up. There's always more opportunities."

And for Burris, that meant a slight change in dress code — a team-issued sweatshirt instead of a practice jersey — but it also opened the door for what could be an extended stay in the game he loves.

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