In a little over a week the Steelers will draft a new rookie class, players who will come in with unbridled enthusiasm, anxious to make an impact on their new team.
Burns was the Steelers’ No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and he came in with that same excitement, that same desire.
“I didn’t feel like there was pressure,” said Burns. “I think they just wanted me to come in and do my job. They wanted me to make plays. And that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to come in and contribute.”
Both sides got what they wanted. Burns played in every game in 2016 and started nine regular season games and all three postseason contests. He finished the regular season with 64 tackles, three interceptions, and 13 pass defenses. But it wasn’t easy at the beginning, especially after missing time in training camp and the preseason with a quadriceps injury.
As the season progressed, his performance progressed, earning him a starting role against Baltimore on Nov. 6, a role he wouldn’t relinquish. And the more time he spent on the field, the more comfortable he became in his role.
“It was probably my third or fourth start that I felt comfortable,” said Burns. “That is when I felt like this is my time. I wanted to keep going and improve myself. I was playing more relaxed. Things were slowing down for me. I was more comfortable. I trusted my technique and just going out there and playing ball and not worrying about anything. With experience and film work, it slowed down. I was able to make more plays then.
“That is the feeling every player wants to have. You feel like everything can go right. That is when you want to play ball all day and never stop.”
“I am working on sharpening my technique,” said Burns. “I want to be able to get my stamina up. I am working on everything. I feel like I can be stronger and my technique will be better. Whatever I feel like I need to work on or am lacking in, I just want to keep on working and try to improve.
“Every day you have to be at your best. It’s different than college. Everybody is on their ‘A’ game. Everybody is competing to be their best. You have to do the same.
“I feel like people have seen a little bit of what I can do. I feel like they can see more. I have a better mindset on the field now and I can do more. I can make more plays. I can get better all around.”