As a rookie in 2019, Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns' season was the true definition of a tale of two halves.
In his first six games, Burns had 4.5 sacks, 15 combined tackles, a defensive touchdown, and was a candidate for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Then, a hand injury that Burns suffered after punching the field in frustration in Week 4 following a missed deflection block on special teams began to catch up with him and affected his play.
Burns was placed in a club and later a cast following a minor midseason surgery but his play wasn't the same the rest of the year.
"Having a cast on really limited me from grabbing and being able to have a firm grip on the blocker or the runner or whoever it was," Burns said during a Zoom presser on Wednesday. "It did limit me quite a bit. Towards the end of the season, it was getting better but it limited me quite a bit as a defensive player."
If anything, the injury was a learning experience that Burns won't dwell on.
"I don't blame myself," Burns said. "Football is an emotional sport so whatever happens happens. It is what it is. I don't think it was a wasted season. I had a good season for the amount of snaps I played and my injury."
Thanks to a virtual offseason, Burns had more time to recover and study the game off the field, and his second season in the league will be a lot different with a new defensive coordinator in Phil Snow and a plethora of young talent now around him on the defensive line.
"The defense is very versatile, there's a lot to take in and a lot of ways you can come," Burns said. "The talent around me, there's a lot of guys I can learn from still. Being in my second year I still got KK (Short), Tahir (Whitehead) behind me, Shaq (Thompson) is still here so there's a lot of guys I can learn from. Very talented group in my opinion."
Burns arrived in Carolina when former head coach Ron Rivera implemented a 3-4 defensive scheme, leaving Burns to play a lot more linebacker rather than his natural defensive end spot.
With the Panthers switching back to a 4-3 under Snow and head coach Matt Rhule, Burns believes he'll still make an impact.
"I think I fit in better defense," Burns said. "It's very versatile and I like that. You can pretty much plug me in anywhere. There's going to be a lot to come with this defense. It's not going to be easy to stop in my opinion."
Snow told The Mac Attack on WFNZ in June that he plans on using Burns a lot.
"I'm trying to keep Brian in every package on the field," Snow said. "He's just too long and athletic and he can run and you know, he's really smart. He really learns football. We're not going to take him off the field. We have different packages and he's going to play different roles. Not only can Brian rush off the edge, he can drop, he could do a lot of different things so we're going to use him that way and that creates a lot of problems for the offense when you can use guys in different roles and you're not sure where they're going to line up."
Even though Snow and Burns hadn't been able to meet until last week, the relationship is already building.
"We talked on the phone a lot. He's a nice guy," Burns said. "We got a good connection and a good bond. He walked me through a lot of the things we'll be doing this year and I'm excited to do it. I'm excited to play in this defense, for sure." Burns says he put on 15 pounds this offseason to play at a weight of around 250-55 this year and has been doing a lot of work with his technique.
"Mainly my hands and technique in the run," Burns said when asked about what he's worked on most.
He's also looking forward to stepping up as a leader, even if it's his second year, with fundamental players like Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton no longer around.
"I think it's all about how you carry yourself, honestly, "Burns said. "How you go about things if you're doing everything right and you hold people accountable you can be a leader in your first year. You obviously have to back it up on the field."
When it comes to personal goals, you'll just have to wait and see.
"My goals are kind of classified. I can't really put those out there," Burns said with a smile.