After spending part of his first season in the league on the team’s practice squad, Burney entered this year’s training camp knowing he’d have to do more than the average player to get noticed and get the promotion he desires.
“You have got to do the extra stuff, not so much off the field but when you are on the field you have got to make a play,” Burney said. “In my situation, for every one play somebody else makes, I’ve got to make three. You have to look at it like that. But for the most part you have to just be yourself. If you try to do too much, you start going all over the place and that’s when you get sent home. So I focus on playing my game within myself and I think I’ll be all right.”
In the eyes of most Rams observers, Burney represents your basic camp long shot but, after a strong spring performance, he’s right in the mix and competing every day to try to win a spot.
Of course, Burney’s road to a promotion to the varsity would have been a lot clearer were it not for the radical makeover the Rams had at the cornerback position in the offseason.
Last year, injuries ravaged the position and the Rams went through more than a dozen corners. Not wanting to get caught short handed and in hopes of strengthening the position as a whole, the Rams went out and forked over big bucks for veteran
Soon after, they spent second and third round picks on corners
What’s left is a heated competition, not only to win roster spots but also to jockey for position on the depth chart.
“It’s going good,” Burney said. “It feels great to be back out here running around with the guys and trying to find a way to make this team this year. It’s exciting. With the scheme and everything I am looking forward to this.”
Ah, yes, the scheme. The previous regime preached the principles of press coverage, asking the corners to be physical at the line of scrimmage. There are still elements of that in the defense the Rams are installing now but there is more versatility required in terms of Cover 2 elements and, most of all, the need to be tough and physical in run support.
Not to say Burney felt like he couldn’t play in last year’s defense but it’s worth mentioning that when he first got a look at this year’s system, he felt like he was looking at a puzzle in which the piece representing him fit right in.
“When I got here this spring, I absolutely loved it because I knew a lot of the calls and keys to look at,” Burney said. “I was real amped up and I couldn’t wait until we get the pads on because a lot of things will come on when everybody starts hitting and things like that.”
Listed at 5’9, 190 pounds, Burney is one of the smallest players on the team but he believes in the value of playing much bigger.
Burney spent his college years at the University of North Carolina and earned a reputation for being one of the toughest pound for pound players in the ACC. For him, playing physical is all mental.
“I’m crazy,” Burney said. “Actually, in this scheme you have to be. Corners have to tackle in this scheme and that’s something I love to do. My weakness is straight down the line I’m not going to be the guy that runs a 4.3 but I am a guy that is going to cover my guy and when you get between the lines that’s all that matters.”
Burney’s enthusiasm and willingness to learn has made him an instant favorite among teammates and coaches. He had a slight setback with some hamstring tightness last week but is back on the practice field at full capacity the first three practices of this week.
Finnegan, who is serving as the elder statesman of the group despite being just 28 has openly embraced the role of mentor and Burney has attached himself to Finnegan’s hip. Finnegan has had good things to say about Burney and taken notice of his competitiveness as well.
“He’s great, he lives right around the corner from me, from the same area code, so me and him kind of connected on that level and he’s been taking me under his wing from there,” Burney said.
The Rams will likely keep six cornerbacks, though it’s not outrageous to think they could keep a seventh if one of them shows the ability to handle safety duties as well. At this point in camp, the top three have become pretty clear in Finnegan, Jenkins and Fletcher but beyond that, nothing seems guaranteed.
When the lights come on Sunday in the first preseason game against Indianapolis, everyone will get yet another chance to make an impression and push for a job. Burney believes it will be a prime opportunity to prove he belongs.
“(I’m) not so much overlooked, it’s just the fact that I have been in this situation last year going in undrafted,” Burney said. “You have got to come in with a chip on your shoulder. From the experience of playing at North Carolina with Butch Davis to coming out here to the same atmosphere and competing, you have just got to go out there and work. Coach Fisher is a great coach and the way he takes care of his players, it makes you want to go out and work harder. I just try to go work and be myself.”
RICHARDSON’S RETURN: Rookie running back
The injury was enough to keep him on the sidelines at the outset of training camp but he finally returned to the mix on Tuesday and was back for more on Wednesday.
A seventh-round pick out of Abilene Christian, Richardson figures to get a shot to get some reps in Sunday’s initial preseason game barring a setback.
“I think if he continues with what he’s doing, I think he’s got a chance,” Fisher said. “I don’t know if we would ask him, get him involved in special teams just because the running and the striding thing, but from a back stand point I think he has a chance, yeah.”
Richardson has the type of top end speed that could make him a dangerous weapon in the Rams’ arsenal. Of course, he has fresh legs right now so he looks more explosive than many of his teammates but Fisher believes Richardson has the potential to be a game breaker.
“He has great speed vision, very explosive, he’s tough, he can run inside, he can run outside,” Fisher said. “He runs the entire offense. He gives us speed; he can get to the edge and set up the outside zone. He got good tracking ability on the inside zone, and good vision.”
Still, Salas and Hoomanawanui have been back and recovered long enough to be making a difference and getting reps with the first team offense during camp.
Fisher said both are right on track to help out this season.
“Yeah, the injuries are behind them and they are making plays,” Fisher said. “Greg made some plays today, and ‘Hooman’ has been doing well. Have not had any set backs at all, which is encouraging and he even got involved in the activities last Saturday. And for all intents and purposes, he has a chance to play quite a bit this weekend.”