The continuing evolution of Brian Burns 


CHARLOTTE – Panthers defensive end Brian Burns keeps getting close.

More importantly, he's getting closer to becoming a complete defensive end and the kind of foundational piece the Panthers need on defense.

Burns has four sacks this season, but 25 quarterback pressures, which is sixth in the NFL. He also has 10 pressures in the last three weeks, which is tied for second in the league over that span. That's convinced those around him that he's on the verge of breaking out.

"You're going to have a three-sack game here pretty soon," defensive coordinator Phil Snow said he told Burns recently.

That would be a relief to Burns, who laughed and talked about how "annoying" it was fighting through increased attention from opposing offenses in recent weeks. To combat that, he's working to refine his technique to become a more polished pass-rusher, in addition to the natural speed which was evident last season.

"It took a while," Burns said. "Last year, I used to rely on my athletic ability and speed a lot. Now I'm taking into consideration extra film study, to know what a guy likes to do. Does he like to jump set or angle set or vertical set, so I know how to rush him.

"Just knowing what to look for. Instead of just going off pure instinct and athleticism, now I have the pregame snap kind of knowledge. Now I have that to go along with it. So it's like taking my game to another level."

Burns talked about studying the moves of other top pass-rushers, saying he's picked up small things over the course of this season from players such as Chicago's five-time Pro Bowler Khalil Mack.

"I would just say understanding how to get to the quarterback," Burns said of his evolution. "I would say probably pulling out certain moves when they're necessary. And also, having a hand. I didn't have a healthy hand last year. So getting in my arsenal and pulling out the right move for that particular time. . . .

"It's all a chess game. I tell people it's a game within the game between you and the tackle, with both of you trying to guess what you're going to do. I would just say using my moves better."

Head coach Matt Rhule said he can see evidence that Burns is improving already, after a 7.5-sack rookie season. Mostly, that's a nod to Burns' eagerness to learn, as Rhule described him "an introspective guy."

"Brian is doing a really nice job of developing," Rhule said. "He's a second-year player that was a 3-4 outside linebacker last year. We've converted him into a defensive end. He affects the quarterback. He plays hard in the run game.

Brian Burns

"He's got a wealth of potential to continue to chase down. He's developed from where I first saw him, especially the way in which he plays the run game. I like his toughness. He's rarely hurt. He plays through bumps and bruises. He's got a tough mindset and really is as smart of a player as we have."

Burns is happy to go into meticulous detail about some of the pass-rush moves he's developed and continues to work on. It's all about hand placement, timing, and anticipating the move of the tackle across from him. While adding to his toolbox is a daily task, it's harder to make wholesale changes during the course of a season, but his education will clearly continue.

"It's harder, because the offseason is when you can watch it and perfect it, and rep it," he said. "But yeah, you can add during the season.

"I watch other edge guys, take some from here, some from there, and rep it and turn it into my own kind of move. So you can definitely implement during the season."

As that happens, Burns is only becoming more dangerous.

Burns is top four among NFL defensive ends with 22 solo tackles to go with four sacks and 25 pressures.

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