LUniversity of Louisville outside linebacker Rodjay Burns is in another state of transition heading into his third season with the Cardinals.
Beginning his career at Ohio State, Burns, a native of Louisville, returned home to the Cardinals in 2017 to play at Louisville.
In his first playing season with the Cardinals in 2018, Burns started nine games at the cornerback position, recording 38 tackles and one interception. He was one of the most explosive punt returners nationally with a 15.2 average, returning a punt 55 yards for his first touchdown.
Playing cornerback last season, Burns started the year at 189 pounds, which was perfect for that position.
However, with the change in defensive philosophies under the new coaching staff, Burns’ athletic ability and size fit perfect in Brown’s vision for the former Trinity product.
Burns has transitioned to the play the “Card” position in the spring, which is more of an outside linebacker and nickel back in defensive coordinator’s Brown’s system.
Forced to set the edge against the running game in Brown’s defense, Burns needed to bulk up to handle more plays near the line of scrimmage and take on pulling offensive linemen.
The Louisville native has bulked up to nearly 200 pounds and has embraced his new role, according to Brown, who coached a top 10 defense last season at Appalachian State.
“It was new to him in the spring,” Brown said. “I think with his ability to play defensive back and linebacker, you can do a lot of things with him. With Rodjay being a good tackler, he can make an impact on our defense. That position makes a lot of plays, and I think with Rodjay’s versatility can be an asset to our defense.”
The summer strength and conditioning program under Mike Sirignano was critical for Burns to change his body to be to withstand the increased physicality needed to be able to be a forced at the line of scrimmage. Burns embraced the challenge, changed his body, and is now the leader heading into the first week of camp.
“It was very important to change my body,” Burns said. “I had to get stronger to go against the offensive linemen and be physical with them. I had to get stronger to set a good base and be able to stop the run.”
Covering wide receivers down the field and not being heavily involved in stopping the run, Burns’ responsibilities will change dramatically this year as he moves closer to the line of scrimmage, which has taken a little time to get adjusted.
“It was a rough transition for sure,” Burns said. “I’ve adjusted to it and gained the weight I needed to gain. The coaching staff told me that I had the ability to make tackles and be a playmaker, which was a big selling point for me. I just wanted to play and help the team.”
The Cardinals finished their third day of fall camp on Tuesday, and Burns likes what he’s seen from the defense in a short period of time. Playing in shorts and shoulder pads for the first time, Burns saw the defense play at a higher level.
“We were together for the first time today after splitting practices for the first two days,” Burns said. “We had a lot of guys out there making plays and flying around. It’s been fun with all the guys back together.”
Brown’s defense is very complicated, which has taken a full spring and summer to learn the new schemes and terminology. However, Burns has put a lot of time in studying the game and is poised to be a starter when the team takes the field on Sept. 2 versus Notre Dame.
“I know the defense,” Burns said. “They are putting new things in every day, but I’ve adjusted to it. I’m looking forward to our scrimmage this weekend to see how far I’ve come since the spring.”
The Cardinals will return to the practice field on Wednesday at 11 a.m. as the adjustment period continues.
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