Burney making smooth move from secondary to linebacker for Gators

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Florida linebacker Amari Burney (30) runs sprints during practice last month. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

Ordinarily, it’s a potentially tricky transition making the move from the secondary to outside linebacker. But for Florida sophomore Amari Burney, it has been no big deal, nothing complicated or uncomfortable about it.

That’s because he’s used to moving around on the football field, playing multiple positions. It goes back to his high school days at Calvary Christian in St. Petersburg, starting with his freshman season.

“In high school I played everything,” Burney said. “I played defensive line my freshman year, then moved to linebacker and safety. I was just mainly in the middle of the field, making tackles.”

Burney also played on the other side of the ball, at wide receiver.

With that kind of history, there was no resistance from Burney when the coaches approached him late last season about moving to linebacker for the final two games against Florida State and Michigan.

And it was the same at the start of the spring, when the move became permanent.

He is now settling in nicely — and effectively —  at his new position.

“I love it,” he said. “New position, new coaches. I’m very comfortable with it right now. Just getting through the spring, then when fall camp comes around, I’ll be more comfortable with it.

“The move’s been great. The coaches, they get me ready in the weight room, bulking me up a little bit more, getting me more fit. They’re just teaching me the new plays, new position. I feel comfortable with it.”

Burney said he started moving into the comfort zone a little less than two weeks into the spring.

“Probably the first scrimmage where we actually started hitting, actually seeing everyone at full speed on the d-line, doing their moves at full speed,” he said. “Watching the hole open up and just coming down and making the tackle.”

Recruited as a safety, Burney played in 12 games as a true freshman last season on special teams and served at Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s backup at the star position.

Heading into the FSU game, against a passing team, the decision was made to move Burney, who is 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, to outside linebacker to take advantage of his speed and coverage skills. He remained there for the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Michigan.

Burney saw the field at linebacker in both games. Against the Seminoles, he had one tackle. In the 41-15 victory over the Wolverines, Burney broke up a pass and had a crucial sack in the second half.

“It built my confidence, just making a play like that on national TV, having everybody talk about it,” Burney said of his performance against Michigan. “It boosted my confidence a lot.”

It also may have convinced the coaches that linebacker is where Burney belongs.

Burney certainly wasn’t surprised when the move became permanent heading into the spring.

“I think I already knew,” he said. “They had talked to me about it, how do I feel about it? Didn’t really approach me until they started doing workouts. Then coach told me to go with the linebackers, so I just went over there.

“It’s just what the coaches feel for me. If they see me at linebacker, then that’s what I’m going to play. If they tell me it’s my natural position, then I’ll go there.”

Burney certainly has the size to play the position. And he has more than enough speed. Senior middle linebacker David Reese said Burney is one of the fastest players on the team, and not just at linebacker or on defense.

“He can do whatever, man (at linebacker),” Reese said. “He’s like 6-2, runs a 4.4. He’s one of the fastest guys, probably top three (on the team). He can cover, he has great size. So that’s what makes him the talent that he is. He just needs to learn the little stuff at linebacker, like the reads and all that.”

Reese is mentoring Burney.

“David Reese is doing a lot,” Burney said. “When we’re on the field — you probably can’t hear it — but he’s talking to me, telling me sometimes what to do. It helps me a lot to play faster.”

Burney is playing the same position where Vosean Joseph led the Gators in tackles last season. Burney has been watching a lot of tape of Joseph, who declared for the NFL draft in January.

“Studying the film, just looking at everything they did last year with Vosean,” he said. “Just looking at how he did it and going back and looking at what I’m doing and seeing what I’m doing wrong. Sometimes seeing what he’s doing wrong and change it going on the field.”

Based on his play so far, Burney has been a quick study.

“I’m feeling more comfortable,” he said. “The game is slowing down for me. I’m learning the plays.

“(The hardest part) in the beginning was the fits. I was mainly just a cover person coming in. Learning new plays, learning fits, now I’m getting very comfortable with it.”


Saturday

What: Orange & Blue Game

When: 1 p.m.

Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Tickets: Free admission

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hopefully he does a lot better job of covering tight ends when asked than the guys last year. We were lucky not to have been picked on more after watching UGA run their TE wide open numerous times against us. 2nd year running the same defense should also help. Go Gators!