Brian Burns says he’s no basketball player, but he sure looks the part.
The Carolina Panthers’ first-round pick doesn’t have the conventional body type of an NFL defensive end. It looks like all his limbs were stretched a few extra inches beyond what you’d expect from a 6-foot-5 lineman.
Coach Ron Rivera noted Friday how useful that will be. He compared Burns to former Panthers Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman for the way those stretchy arms and legs create advantages.
“He’s long and because of that there are some things he can do that guys who don’t have the long arms, don’t have the long legs — the reach [can’t],” Rivera said. “We had a guy like that in a defensive back in Josh Norman. That length adds a little something that you really can’t teach.
“It’s like, ‘You can’t teach speed?’ Well, you also can’t teach length. It helps you get to where you need to be quicker.”
Longer and leaner player
Norman had preposterously long arms — 32 3/4 inches on a 6-foot frame. Burns isn’t quite that extreme, but his 33 7/8-inch arms on a 6-5 frame create quite an advantage for a player tasked to knock down passes and haul in quarterbacks.
This is apparent just from watching: When Burns is standing with the other defensive linemen in drills, he sticks out as longer and leaner. Not frail — he’s solid at 250 pounds — but different in ranginess without giving up the speed to get to the quarterback.
Rivera said right after the Panthers drafted Burns, who starred for three seasons at Florida State, that they rated Burns’ first step as best among pass-rushers in the 2019 draft. Nothing Rivera has seen since softens that assessment.
“He’s done it to all of our [offensive] tackles,” Rivera said of Burns beating them off the snap.
Burns had 23 sacks in three college seasons, including 10 in 2018. The Panthers had a pressing need for pass-rushers when they drafted Burns 16th overall. They were 27th among 32 NFL teams last season in sacks, with 35 — far off the Kansas City’ Chiefs’ league-best 52. Julius Peppers, fourth in NFL history with 159.5 career sacks, retired after last season.
Burns arrives as the Panthers defense transitions from being a 4-3 base formation to a mix of 3-4, as well. That means Burns will spend a portion of his snaps this season as a stand-up linebacker, rather than always in a defensive end stance. He’s excited how that will play to his quickness and athleticism.
“Standing up allows me to see more of the field and be able to react faster,” Burns said.
New defensive schemes
The change in defensive front makes rookie Burns a bit less of a newbie, because every player in the Panthers’ front seven is adapting to a new scheme.
“You have some veteran guys who know a little more, but at the end of the day we’re all learning this playbook, because it’s new to everybody,” Burns said.
With so many known quantities on the Panthers defensive line — Mario Addison, Dontari Poe and newly acquired veteran Gerald McCoy — Burns doesn’t figure to face nearly as many double-teams as he did at Florida State. The prospect of that drew a huge grin Friday and a burst of bravado.
“[Against a] one-one-one, I’m going to pick me every time,” Burns said.
Opponents will adapt once Burns starts disrupting offenses, but that’s good, too.
“Then you’ll see he’s the guy who will get chipped [draw an extra blocker]. Or they will line up the tight end over there or the [running] back to his side a little more,” Rivera said.
“And that helps everybody else.”