CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Congratulations poured into Brian Burns’ cellphone via Twitter on Thursday night after the Carolina Panthers made him the 16th pick of the NFL draft. The Florida State edge rusher replied to thank a few, then deleted the account.
It wasn’t that Burns didn’t want to be bothered as he began his journey into professional football.
He just didn’t want to anyone to spoil the movie “Avengers: Endgame” before he had a chance to see it.
That says a lot about Burns’ ability to focus and control what is important in his life. He exhibited a similar focus last year during FSU’s pro day when scouts worked out defensive back Derwin James, who went to the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 17 overall.
“Burns told me then that was going to be him this year,” FSU coach Willie Taggart recalled. “Sure enough, he put in the work to get himself there.’’
Taggart spent only one season with Burns, with the coach taking over the program in 2018 after Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. It didn’t take him long to realize what he believes the Panthers and the rest of the NFL soon will learn about the 6-foot-5, 249-pound player who claims his alter ego is Spider-Man.
“He’s a gem,” Taggart told ESPN.com. “Brian Burns is going to be a household name.”
Does whatever a spider can.
Spins a web, any size.
Catches thieves — just like flies.
Look out! Here comes the Spider-Man.
Burns isn’t kidding about idolizing the fictional superhero. He wore Spider-Man socks to the draft in Nashville and again for his introductory news conference at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Friday.
“Growing up, I was always a Spider-Man fan, all the way from Tobey Maguire,” Burns said. “I just fell in love with the movies and I just fell in love with that character.”
Panthers first-round pick Brian Burns keeps the Spider-Man theme alive with special Spider-Man socks. He didn’t get to see the new ”Avengers” last night as he hoped but he can’t wait to see it now that he has arrived in… https://t.co/V2CstqKdPu pic.twitter.com/jCT3D2KWdt
— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) April 26, 2019
Burns brought the character to life with his sack celebrations in which he imitated the Spider-Man crouching poses. Burns’ brother, Stanley McClover, recalled the first time he saw the celebration, last season against Wake Forest.
“I was like, ‘Wow! How did he do that?’ because you have to be a flexible person to even get in that stance,” said McClover, a seventh-round pick by the Panthers in 2006. “I encouraged him to run with it, to have fun with football because you never know what is going to happen.
“My career was over at 25. I always tell him to live in the moment and appreciate what is going on.”
Burns’ Spider-Man qualities — quickness, flexibility, rangy reach — allowed him to record the second-most quarterback pressures (65) in the FBS last season, in addition to his 15.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.
The Panthers hope those qualities, as well as Burns’ ability to play end in a 4-3 scheme and outside linebacker in a 3-4, will bolster a pass rush that ranked 27th in the NFL in sacks last season, as coach Ron Rivera makes a defensive transition to more odd-man fronts.
Say what you want about Carolina’s other draft picks, most notably second-rounder Greg Little (OT, Ole Miss) and third-rounder Will Grier (QB, West Virginia) — Burns is expected to have the biggest impact this season.
“His get-off on the ball is kind of like shooting that web and swinging his way around to get to the quarterback,” Taggart said. “He does things with his body that most people can’t to make plays. And he can stay under control doing it.”
Burns brings such high intensity to practice that Taggart sometimes wanted to “kick him out so we can get things done.”
That’s a trait the Panthers lost when they moved on from outside linebacker Thomas Davis, 36, now playing for the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Carolina is getting a kid who is going to work his tail off,” Taggart said. “I was impressed he wasn’t one of those kids that sat around and played video games. I can only imagine where his game is going to go now that all he has to do is focus on football.”
Is he strong? Listen, bud.
He’s got radioactive blood.
Can he swing, from a thread?
Take a look overhead.
Hey, there! There goes the Spider-Man!
The biggest question scouts and general managers had about Burns heading into the draft pertained to his ability to hold his own against NFL tackles in the run game and get around them in the passing game.
Burns rarely came off the field at FSU, but he played at 230 pounds. He’s bulked up almost 20 pounds to prepare for the more physical NFL game, but it hasn’t had a noticeable impact on his speed and flexibility.
He ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 4.53 seconds, which ranked second among pass-rushers and only trailed Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat (4.41), who still was on the board when Carolina picked.
“[Burns] is a freak,” Taggart said, using a word others often use to describe Burns, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Burns doesn’t lack for confidence. He believes he was the most versatile edge rusher in the draft because of his ability to drop into coverage, stop the run, play multiple positions and rush the quarterback.
He gets no argument from Taggart.
“The kid could have played running back for us,” he said. “He can do pretty much everything. The only position I would question is quarterback. He can’t throw the ball.”
Spidey to the rescue
In the chill of night, at the scene of a crime,
like a streak of light,
he arrives, just in time!
If Burns’ ability to play multiple positions wasn’t enough for the Panthers (especially following the retirement of future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers), Burns also is a good fit off the field.
“I love dogs and I love to dance; those are my main things,” Burns said. “And I love the Avengers.”
Rivera is a dog lover. Pictures of him cuddling with new golden retriever Tahoe on the practice field last year said it all.
As for dancing, quarterback Cam Newton sets the tone, from his dabs in 2015 to his daily moves during pre-practice warm-ups.
So Burns fits into the culture in Charlotte. He also has a family tie to the Panthers in McClover, who played in 14 games from 2006-2008.
McClover might have been even more excited than Burns when the Panthers called Thursday. McClover actually wore Carolina blue and predicted it was where his brother would land.
“God told me to wear Carolina colors,” McClover said. “When my brother was drafted, it was like a dream come true.”
While McClover was at Carolina, Burns and his sister spent part of their summer break with him in Charlotte. Burns met Peppers, whose 159.5 sacks rank fourth on the NFL’s all-time list, as an 8-year-old on a golf-cart ride from the practice field to the stadium.
“All the things Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker taught me, surely I gave some of that to my brother,” McClover said.
It was during the time in Charlotte when McClover realized his brother’s love for Spider-Man.
“All he wanted to do was watch Spider-Man movies and Spider-Man cartoons,” McClover said. “He had Spider-Man toys. He just loved Spider-Man. The character really spoke to him.
“He loved that character so much that he modeled his game after him.”
Another Spider-Man characteristic that makes Burns a good fit for the Panthers is his age.
“Well, you know in the comics he was a kid, right?” said Burns, who turned 21 on Tuesday. “So, I’m glad that they’re getting back to that kid aspect. Because Tobey was like an adult working at a newspaper or something like that, but now he’s back to a kid [in the Avengers].”
Newton, even as he approaches 30, embodies the kid-like attitude of the Carolina locker room. He’s a superhero fanatic as well, embodying the Superman character in his touchdown celebrations.
Burns liked being a college kid so much, he almost stayed at FSU for his senior season.
“He was struggling with it for a while whether to come back or not,” Taggart said. “His mom would call and say I need to talk to Brian. Leaving was the right thing to do. Me telling him, ‘you need to go’ pushed him over.”
Now Burns is ready to push over college quarterbacks. At the top of his sack wish list?
“Tom,” Burns said of five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. “I mean, you just gotta go for the GOAT. He’s the greatest of all time. So I’m going for the big dog.”
Like deleting the Twitter account, that also says a lot about Burns.
“He’s setting the bar high for himself,” McClover said. “I feel like Carolina won the draft and the world is going to see.”