While Brian Burns was playing with a club on his right hand that limited his ability to use his fingers and thumb and made him less effective as a pass rusher, the lack of snaps for the Panthers’ first-round pick made sense.
After voicing his frustrations after a Week 7 blowout loss to the 49ers in which Burns played (at the time) a season-low 22 snaps, he softened his stance later in the week once he had spoken to coaches and was told that his playing time had to do with the fact that the 49ers were running the ball with a big lead and an edge rusher like himself – especially one that is lacking the use of his dominant hand – wasn’t needed in a run-heavy defense.
But for the past two weeks, Burns has been playing with the same padding on his hand that he wore before a frustrated punch to the turf in Houston exacerbated a wrist injury suffered in training camp – and less a week removed from playing only 11 snaps in Green Bay and a limited amount of snaps against the Falcons, both of whom feature a potent passing attack, questions are being asked about why he isn’t getting the reps that he got in the first month of the season.
Burns had 2.5 sacks, nine quarterback hits and two blocked punts his first four games of the season; in the past six games, Burns has had two sacks, five tackles and only two quarterback hits – and in the past four games, Burns has had only one tackle total. Despite playing 70% of the snaps against the Titans with Mario Addison out, Burns has seen his playtime percentage plummet over the past two weeks.
And he’s not sure why.
“I don’t know, honestly,” said Burns. “They could be worried about my hand or they just want to trust the vets – I mean, early [in the season], I got a lot of playing time because Bruce was out but now that he’s back, my reps have been cut. I don’t really know, honestly. That’s a questions for Coach Rivera.”
Rivera says the wrist is still keeping Burns from playing to his full potential.
“A little bit,” said Rivera when asked if the wrist was still bothering the rookie. ‘It’s tough because you really can’t grab and pull like he wants to.”
The lack of playing time is limiting his effectiveness, Burns says, but he is still able to make an impact – as evidenced when he got around the edge and was able to strip-sack Matt Ryan on a late two-point conversion attempt in the Panthers’ 29-3 loss to the Falcons.
But it hasn’t been easy as his playing time comes in drips and drabs.
“You’ve got to set up your rushes, you’ve got to get used to [the tackle’s] set, you’ve got to play chess,” said Burns. “You can’t just go in one play, come out, go back in for another two plays – you’ve got to get used to the game, you feel me? You’ve got to get a rhythm.”
Aside from the Titans game where both Addison and Christian Miller were out and Burns played the majority of the snaps, the rookie’s snap count has gone down every week since Week 4 – while Burns was still able to be effective in Weeks 5 & 6 with a sack each week and a 56-yard fumble return for a score, he clearly hasn’t been as effective since being forced to wear the club/cast while he recovered from a minor wrist procedure during the bye.
While Burns was limited, Irvin has shown why the Panthers brought him in this offseason with two sacks, twelve tackles, a safety and three tackles for loss over the past four games – the veteran hit Matt Ryan three times on Sunday.
A young player battling through a self-inflicted injury playing behind two proven veterans is bound to be frustrated by playing time, but now that he’s not hindered by the cast and he starts to feel closer to 100%, he hopes to make an impact however he can.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” said Burns. “But at the end of the day I’m going to play my role and I’m going to do what I’ve got to do and just try to help the team out.”