Panthers Bears Football

Defensive end Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Chase Daniel during the first half of Thursday’s preseason opener against the Chicago Bears. Burns, a rookie, played less than two quarters but showed his stage presence with two early sacks.



Superman gave Spider-Man his props on Thursday night in a scene Panthers fans hope is repeated over and over this season.

Brian Burns, Carolina’s edge rusher and first-round selection of the 2019 Draft, had just made a sack and gone into one of his Spidey celebrations. When he ran to the sideline, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton congratulated Burns and imitated a Spider-Man pose himself. Long a veteran of superhero celebrations, Newton knows a good one when he sees one.

Said Burns: “It felt great — I ain’t going to lie — that all the guys were happy for my success. It means a lot.”

It’s very early, of course. But Burns has so far made one of the most seamless transitions I’ve ever seen from a Carolina first-round draft pick, and I’ve covered all of them. Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross, Newton and Christian McCaffrey — to name just four — all entered the NFL with similar aplomb.

Burns played less than two quarters in Carolina’s 23-13 win over Chicago, but he quickly showed his stage presence. Starting in his first-ever NFL game because Carolina coach Ron Rivera didn’t play any of his regular offensive or defensive starters, Burns burned Chicago backup quarterback Chase Daniel for two early sacks.

“To have that success in my first game, it’s amazing,” Burns said.

After each sack, Burns performed a version of his signature Spider-Man celebration, which he began while in college at Florida State. Unlike Newton’s Superman act, where he pantomimes ripping open his shirt to reveal an “S” underneath, Burns said he won’t be doing the same Spider-Man pose every time.

“I looked up some poses,” said Burns, who wore a custom-made T-shirt that said “Spider-Burns” in the locker room after the game. “I wanted to throw a little twist on the celebration. I have a lot (of poses).... I’m giving it a change up every time.”

Teammates think the celebrations are engaging enough that veteran defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has looked online and suggested some more poses for Burns in the future.

‘I thought Burns

was explosive’

Burns’ two sacks were against Chicago backups, and each came on a different move. With an assist from Bryan Cox Jr. on the first one, whose speed on an inside rush lessened Daniel’s escape options, Burns did a spin move on a running back who came to double-team him with a chip block. He ended up freeing himself and spinning right into Daniels. On the second one, Burns badly faked a Bears tight end to the outside, then sped inside to envelop Daniels again.

“I thought Burns was explosive,” said Rivera said. “He was exactly who we thought he was.”

Rivera has been high on Burns throughout training camp, saying he had far surpassed the other rookies and young players who are learning the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position in the 3-4 scheme. (It’s worth noting that Marquis Haynes, who as a rookie played sparingly in 2018 and didn’t notch a sack, got two sacks Thursday night, too).

Rivera said even before Burns’ two-sack day that the first-round pick would be getting lots of playing time early. That won’t be as a starter, though, as veterans Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin have the spots basically locked up for Week 1 of the regular season.

Although the coaching staff originally had thought it would play Burns a little longer Thursday, they protected their valuable young asset once they saw what he could do. Said Rivera of Burns: “He made a few plays right off the bat ... We decided it was time to pull him in the middle of the second quarter.”

The one place where Burns must improve: strength. Given that he will play at around 240 pounds as a rookie, the 21-year-old will often face offensive tackles 60-80 pounds bigger than he is in the NFL. Blazing speed and a quick first step are Burns’ forte — Rivera, the former NFL linebacker, calls it “an elite get-off.” But Burns will also need to hold the point of attack on sweeps and other running plays. Early in the season, I’d expect to see him mostly in passing situations.

Doing his best Denzel

Far more challenges await Burns, starting with joint practices Tuesday and Wednesday with the Buffalo Bills and then a home exhibition against that same Bills team on Friday. But Burns does have that stage presence, which was also evidenced in the way he performed for the team during the annual rookie talent show earlier in camp.

With Newton acting as emcee, Burns volunteered to go first. Newton teasingly made him state his signing bonus (“8.2,” Burns said, referring to millions).

Then, without further preamble, Burns launched into a remarkable impersonation of Denzel Washington in the 2001 thriller “Training Day.” It is apparent from the video, which is posted on the Panthers’ team website, that many of the players watching Burns perform had never seen the original movie nor Washington’s on-camera tirade that helped him win the Best Actor Oscar for the role.

But they knew Burns was putting his all into it — he had watched the original clip dozens of times to prepare the monologue and screamed many of his lines — and they gave him a huge ovation at the end.

Burns didn’t do a Spider-Man pose after that triumph, although he probably should have. Instead, the rookie took a sweeping bow and returned to his seat, secure in the knowledge that his teammates now understood the quality that Burns hopes to display all season — a flair for the dramatic.

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