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Brian Burns looking to thrive in Florida State’s new-look defense

The junior defensive end is trying to echo his freshman year (9 1/2 sacks) after a slight sophomore slump.
Florida State Seminoles defensive end Brian Burns (99) sacks Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) during the first quarter of the game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017.  [ MONICA HERNDON  |  Times ]
Florida State Seminoles defensive end Brian Burns (99) sacks Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) during the first quarter of the game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. [ MONICA HERNDON | Times ]
Published Aug. 15, 2018

BRADENTON — First-year coach Willie Taggart's plan to transform Florida State into a program built on lethal simplicity transcends the offense.

The defense will try to live by that same two-word philosophy, which could help Brian Burns rebound from a sophomore slump and live up to his potential as one of the top defensive ends in the country.

"We can get after the quarterback this year," Burns said Wednesday before the Seminoles' practice at IMG Academy. "That's what we plan to do."

Burns did that in high school at Plantation American Heritage, where he collected 28 sacks over his final two years, earned an invite to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and became a top-50 national recruit.

He did it as an FSU newcomer in 2016, too; his 9 ½ sacks were the most of any freshman in the country and ranked 25th among all players.

And there's no question he has the potential to do that this fall. Defensive ends coach Mark Snyder compares his pass rushing to former No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett.

"Myles Garrett is a freak, so getting compared to him in general is amazing," Burns said.

Now is the time for Burns to live up to that comparison.

He didn't last year, when his sack total dropped to 4 ½. Some of the dip wasn't his fault. Burns was no longer playing on the same line as star DeMarcus Walker. The defense as a whole underachieved during a lost season.

But Burns also knows he can do better, which is why he says he came into camp in the best shape he's ever been in. The 6-foot-5 junior is listed at 235 pounds — up from 218 last year — and playing with more effort to maximize his potential in a scheme designed to let elite athletes like Burns make plays without overthinking.

"I've got to be in the best shape I can be in, so I can do that every play," Burns said.

FSU is also counting on Burns to emerge as a leader on a defense that lacked them last year. It's not a natural role for Burns, who talks little during games, but he's coming through.

"You want him to step up, because you're going to have the respect of the team and have a big voice," defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. "We want him to do that, and he's doing a good job."

Burns wants to continue to improve the rest of his game, too, especially at stopping the run. But the biggest expectation for him is to help boost a pass rush that ranked a ho-hum 45th nationally last year with 25 sacks.

Of course, Burns has a personal sack goal in mind.

"Confidential," he said.ontact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.