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Notebook: Brian Burns wants defense to remain the same in 2024

Brian Burns

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At least, that's what Brian Burns is hoping.

"I don't think they should touch the defense at all," Burns said Wednesday.

The Carolina Panthers have only two games remaining on their schedule. The offseason is looming, and with it, decisions that could reverberate across the entire organization. Decisions from the coaching staff to free agents like Burns himself.

A former first-round pick and the cornerstone of what the Panthers are trying to build on defense, the chances Burns is somewhere new next season are slim. If negotiations stall into the offseason, the franchise tag remains a viable option for the club to use with the edge rusher. At that point, the two sides would have extra time to get a deal done into next season.

Burns spoke on Wednesday about his desire to stay with the organization that drafted him 16th overall in 2019. But beyond that move, he hopes the room around him looks much the same as well.

"I understand this is a business so a couple of guys will probably split ways," Burns admitted, before going on to express his trust in the chemistry the unit has developed together.

Even in a 2-13 season, the defense has held teams to a 296.8 yards per game, which is fifth in the league, and 37 percent on third-down conversions.

Brian Burns

Burns and linebacker Frankie Luvu will be the biggest offseason free agents to address. The rest of this defense, to Burns probable delight, will likely stay largely intact as contracts stretch through the next season. Players are only half the equation though, and Burns sees some positive in keeping the coaching staff the same as well. If for no other reason than to give the units some sense of consistency. With near constant turnover in recent years, they've had little of that.

"I feel like that'd help anybody, just having some stability at some point," Burns said.

Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero will be a candidate for job openings this offseason as well. His future in Carolina will hinge on what the Panthers' next head coach wants to do with the position.

For Burns, who posted over seven sacks each of his first four seasons (including 12.5 last season), this year has been a lesson in humility and reality. What comes next is unknown, for many involved. But the Panthers leader knows what he wants; a chance to try again with a group he knows is capable. As hard as this year has been, it's only one, and that's what Burns is reminding himself of as this season winds to a close.

"It's been a challenge," Burns said. "This has been by far the most adversity that I've faced probably in my career. I'm gonna reflect on that. But I think it's getting ready for something bigger. So always keep my head up, keep my spirits up."

Changing of the guard 

The right guard position on the offensive line has seen more turnovers than a bakery this season, with eight different players taking snaps at the spot. For the past two weeks, there has been a rotation between rookie Nash Jensen and veteran Gabe Jackson

Last week, it was Jensen who got the nod to start. It's part of his overall development process, according to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.

"I think it's more of a process throughout the week as far as practice goes, giving guys an opportunity to compete," Brown said Thursday. "I think it's not always a one size fits all approach, when you kind of make movements, whether it be up front or any position group in general. Giving guys an opportunity to continue to prove themselves and compete for an opportunity to go play." 

Still, the chance for Jackson to play more and eventually get a start isn't out of the realm of possibility.  

"Definitely," Brown said, when asked if Jackson had a chance to start. "Everything is on the table for, not just that position, but we're always evaluating every single spot to try to figure out who gives the best opportunity to be consistent. (He) did a nice job coming in, stepping in from a second half standpoint but also from the second quarter on as far as being able to, moving in the run game but also being able to hold up in pass-pro." 

Jackson is out of the allowed three standard practice squad elevations for this season. If he plays on Sunday, he will have to be added to the active roster. The Panthers currently have an open spot remaining on the 53-man roster.

Young can be sneaky

Quarterback Bryce Young converted a fourth-and-1 on Sunday versus the Packers, employing the infamous QB sneak. It's a play that the Panthers have noticeably used quarterback Andy Dalton on throughout the season. Now that Young has proved capable of converting on his first, the question arises, will he be used in that way more?

As Thomas explains though, the decision to use or not use Young on QB sneaks was more about the defense than the rookie quarterback.

"I think we had some good answers throughout the year when it comes to short yardage," Thomas maintained. The Panthers have converted 45 percent of their fourth-down attempts and have elected to rush the ball 58.33 percent of the time on fourth-and-1.

"It's kind of more about what the defense presents. But also being able to build tendencies, week in and week out and have an opportunity at some point to be able to break them. I think people assume (I'm protecting Bryce). I've never said we're trying to protect Bryce from QB sneaks. Bryce runs a lot ... It's more about how we just kind of put some stuff together as far as how they're (trying) to defend you and try to put our guys in the best spot to have success."

Defense wants to start fast, no matter the QB

The status of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence is still unknown for Sunday's game. He did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday with a right shoulder injury that knocked him out of last week's game. However, Lawrence has not missed a game since entering the league in 2021. Regardless of if it is Lawrence or backup, CJ Beathard, Evero is preparing his group of the offense more so than the quarterback.

"It really doesn't matter (who it is)," Evero said Thursday. "They're a good offense. The backup has played really well this year and when he's gotten his opportunities. They got skill players, a really good (running) back, really good receivers. They do a great job schematically as well. And so whoever's playing quarterback for them is gonna be a tough challenge and we got to be ready to go."

Heading in to the final two weeks of the season and looking to play playoff spoiler, Evero's group is also focused primarily on their own game. Four of their last five losses have included the opposing offense score a touchdown on either their first or second drive. Putting them into a hole early is the goal, according to Evero.

"That is a big thing that we're talking about. We gotta start better," Evero said. "Obviously there are some things that we could do better schematically. I won't go into the details about that, but there's definitely some things we could do better schematically. I could do better, some things that players could do better. And then we just have to be ready to go, players and coaches, we have to be ready to go from the jump."

View photos from the Panthers' practice as the team prepares to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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