First-rounder Brian Burns off to superhero start for Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Brian Burns crouched a few yards behind Chase Daniel after sacking the Chicago Bears quarterback for a 7-yard loss Thursday. He used an inside swim move that made Bears undrafted tight end Ian Bunting look silly.

It was the second of two “Spider-Man" poses the 16th pick of the 2019 draft had in his NFL preseason debut on Thursday at Soldier Field.

In his words afterward -- while wearing a Spider-Man shirt -- he said it was the kind of pose the superhero does when he’s on top of a building and looking over the city he is committed to protect.

Only the Panthers didn’t draft the former Florida State edge rusher to protect anything. They selected him to wreak havoc on quarterbacks after a 2018 season in which the Panthers finished a woeful 27th in the NFL in sacks.

“Burns was explosive, did exactly what we thought he would," coach Ron Rivera said.

Burns loves Spider-Man movies that inspired his trademark celebrations in college. He knows the only way he’ll get to show them off is to get sacks, and he promises there’s more to his arsenal than the two poses he displayed at Chicago.

There’s no reason to think sacks won’t come in bunches for the 6-foot-5, 249-pound pass-rusher. As Florida State coach Willie Taggart told ESPN.com in April after the draft, “Brian Burns is going to be a household name."

After watching Burns on Thursday, Taggart said, “I am not surprised at all. I really think if he stays healthy, he will impact the NFL the same way Jevon Kearse did. Spider-Man always comes through."

Kearse had an AFC-best 14.5 sacks in 1999, his rookie season for the Tennessee Titans after being selected with the 16th pick -- same as Burns. He also led the NFL with eight forced fumbles and batted away nine passes.

Like Burns, Kearse was long and lean (6-5, 265) with explosive moves. He was nicknamed “The Freak" not only because of his size, but his 4.43 speed in the 40-yard dash and 86-inch wingspan.

Burns has similar attributes, but just not quite as freakish. He posted a 4.53 time in the 40 at the NFL combine and has a 83 5/8-inch wingspan. He registered a 97 combine score, making him one of three edge rushers with a score above 90. The others were Nick Bosa and Montez Sweat, the second and 26th overall picks of the draft.

Some would argue Burns was a steal at No. 16. Some draft experts had him going in the top 10.

He is a natural fit for a Carolina defense switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base in that he’s athletic enough to play outside linebacker and still physical enough to play end in a 4-3.

Mike Rucker, a former Carolina defensive end for the Panthers and now an analyst for the team's preseason television production, saw that natural athletic ability come out with the spin move for the first of the two sacks -- in only 10 snaps.

"I’m telling you, that was textbook," said Rucker, whose 55.5 career sacks ranked third on the team's all-time list. "I would say for a guy that's been in the league five or six years, that’s good. For a rookie, that’s remarkable. It came off so smooth."

Rucker sees a little bit of Kearse in Burns, but not enough to declare him a Pro Bowl selection in his first year.

"The reason they called Jevon Kearse 'The Freak' was he was able to do some crazy things," he said. "So the spin move Burns made, it takes some balance. That Burns makes it look so natural was impressive."

Pulling off the "Spider-Man" pose also takes great balance.

"I like it," Rucker said. "It's a natural, not up-in-your-face move, but it says, 'That's cool.' I wouldn't be able to get back up if I did that when I played. There would have been stuff popping all over the place."

Burns said no one else can do the poses quite like him.

“After I did my [first] pose a lot of my teammates tried to figure out how to do it," he said. “Cam [Newton] was on the side trying to do it, too."

Did the quarterback whose alter ego is "Superman" succeed?

“No,’’ Burns said with a laugh. “Next time you get him for an interview, make him try to do it.’’

Pro Bowl defensive tackle/end Gerald McCoy likened Burns to Tampa Bay outside linebacker Noah Spence and former San Francisco outside linebacker Aldon Smith in that he has long arms and power like Smith and the athletic flexibility of Spence.

“He can turn the corner with his knee dragging on the grass," said McCoy, who didn't get his first sack, preseason or otherwise, until the second half of his rookie season in 2010. “For him, to be that size and dip and turn the corner like that ... that’s scary."

Burns used all of that in his sacks of Daniel.

Here’s what he said about the first one, also for a loss of 7 yards: “I was planning on just taking off and throwing my fastball by using speed, but it just so happened that when I got to my point, the back came out to chip me so I spun off the back.

“With the help of Bryan Cox, he was already in the B-gap and so far up, there was a gap for the quarterback, and I just came for the sack.”

That was followed by his classic “Spider-Man" pose, which takes more than average flexibility to pull off.

The second sack was pure speed and athletic ability.

“The tackle blocked down, so I squeezed," Burns said. “The tight end came to pin me, so I gave him an outside jab, came inside and wrapped the quarterback up for another one.”

Marquis Haynes, a fourth-round pick a year ago, also had two sacks to give the Panthers five on the night. That’s significant, as Carolina had only five sacks the entire 2018 preseason.

So the transition to the 3-4 is off to a good start, and Burns definitely is off to a good start. He’s practiced and played so well that Rivera said the 21-year-old has separated himself from the other young edge rushers, to the point he will go with a three-man rotation at outside linebacker until that changes.

Bruce Irvin and Mario Addison currently are the starting outside linebackers, but Burns will be hard to keep off the field if he continues to produce.

“It’s a confidence booster,’’ Burns said of his debut. “I know that once the regular season starts, we’re going to go to a whole other level. I’m ready to continue to learn from the vets, keep taking my game to another level each day.’’

There’s also the added motivation of showing off new “Spidey" moves.

“Just stay tuned,’’ Burns said. “There’s a lot more coming.’’