Amari Burney is hardly the first to play multiple positions, and he won’t be the last. But, considering Florida’s depth this season, the sophomore seems poised for a significant role, with much credit going to Burney’s positional pliability.
Ranked the No. 14 safety in the 2018 class coming out of Clearwater’s Calvary Christian, Burney saw action in three games at weak-side linebacker toward the end of the 2018 season, and Florida’s coaching staff has been fine-tooling his technique at the position ever since.
Yet his transition didn’t stop there.
Burney has also worked at the STAR nickel cornerback position — a spot where UF has experienced attrition as of late — and it’s become clear he’ll be a multi-tool in Florida’s defense this season.
“Great weapon,” senior linebacker David Reese II said of Burney. “He could be a linebacker or a defensive back. When you get a guy like that, that is versatile like that, you can put him in many different situations. You can bring him on blitzes, or put him in coverage and just shut somebody down for the whole game.”
But one doesn’t simply adjust overnight to a role as valuable, and complex, as the one Reese described. It takes a considerable amount of work, coupled with a high football IQ.
“Burney can run, and that makes him valuable,” linebackers coach Christian Robinson said. “He is extremely smart. I mean, he has lined up all over for us. When you have a full range of understanding, it creates value.”
When it comes to film study and weekly preparation, Burney’s value to the defense has led him to rotate between position groups in preseason camp.
“I’m in the safeties’ meeting room and the linebackers’ meeting room, so each and every day I’m in either meeting room,” Burney said. “In the linebacker room I’m mainly working in the box, shuffling, things like that. In the safety room it’s backpedaling, getting out of breaks.”
But when it comes to differentiating between his assignments, he’s still in the process of sorting things out. After playing a different position for much of his playing career, Burney’s role this season will largely be determined by the opposition — his assignment could change from play to play.
“They tell me when to go in, and I just got to reset my mindset whichever position I’m in, because I might be doing something different on this play than I am at STAR. So I just got to reset it and just study the playbook hard and know what I’m doing,” Burney said. “A lot of people play multiple spots now, so now you can move people around and put new people in. It’s very helpful for the defense.”
While he did have experience at both positions as a prospect, Burney admitted his form was nowhere near up to snuff when he arrived on campus.
“In high school, I had no technique. It was different in high school, I just stood in the middle and just played the ball and made tackles, things like that,” he said. “But coming here, Coach (Ron) English and Coach (Christian) Robinson, they both put me in the film room when I first got here, and showing me my footwork, things I needed to work on in the offseason.”
Considering the recruiting landscape in 2019, it’s become increasingly rare to hear Burney, a highly recruited in-state prospect, unselfishly describe transitioning to a new position in order to benefit the team.
Yet for Burney, being flexible and staying patient wasn’t difficult.
“Playing mostly special teams last year, you had to just go out there and give it your all, and just hopefully they see talent in you and put you on the field next year. So I was really working for this year, just showing them my talent and what I had,” Burney said. “I really wasn’t given anything growing up playing high school talent, I had to work my way up. And just last year, being behind Chauncey (Gardner-Johnson) and things like that, just learning from him, it really wasn’t checking my ego, it was just learning and making sure I’m ready if I got to go in.”
Come Aug. 24, it’s no longer a question of if Burney will get to go in the game, but rather just how much he’ll see the field. After an impressive preseason camp, Burney’s teammates expect him to play a vital role on a defense with high expectations this season.
“Burney’s really important to this team. He plays multiple positions: linebacker and STAR,” said defensive back Marco Wilson. “He’s very athletic and he can play real good. He’s just really important to this squad.”