Notebook: Burney brings speed, versatility to defense

Sep 26, 2019 | 0 comments

After recording his first career sak against Michigan in the Peach Bowl, Amari Burney garnered a lot of hype from fans and media over the off-season. Though he started off at safety as a freshman, over the spring he moved to the “money” linebacker spot, a play-making position that figured to take full advantage of his defensive back speed and linebacker build (6-foot-2, 224 pounds).

He impressed during the spring, and the expectation was that this would be a breakout season for him that would make him a household name throughout the SEC.

Of course, that’s not what’s happened, at least not yet. Burney injured himself the week of the opener against Miami and played sparingly. He then missed the next two games against UT Martin and Kentucky.

“It was very tough,” Burney said on Saturday. “Especially going into the Kentucky game, couldn’t get out there and just watching my teammates doing their thing and coming out with a win. It’s very tough sitting on the sideline, but you have to be a good teammate, getting everybody ready, and when it’s your chance go out there, you got to make plays.”

He certainly didn’t waste his chance to make plays when he returned to action against Tennessee last Saturday. He intercepted his first career pass after cornerback Marco Wilson dislodged the ball with a big hit in the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, he recovered a fumble forced by Jonathan Greenard for his first career fumble recovery. He also finished with a career-best five tackles.

“I thought it was OK,” he said. “I’m not one to hype myself up. I know I can do better out there than what I showed [Saturday]. But, Coach is going to get me right, get me in the film room and tell me what I messed up on and correct it.”

Florida’s linebacking corps has lacked elite speed the past couple of years, and Kentucky exploited the linebackers in the passing game the week prior to Burney’s return. If he stays healthy and continues to produce, he could transform the defense from great to elite. He also brings versatility, as he plays the star position in certain situations.

“The fourth play of the game, Ventrell [Miller] goes down,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “The way the game shaped up, it was more of a passing situation, and he becomes an athlete in there, playing the routes and doing that kind of thing. He played there all spring, and he knows how to play it. That’s just another example of why you have to cross-train guys to get your best 11 guys on the field.”

Johnson Pleased with Trask’s First Start

Kyle Trask’s first start since his freshman year of high school was filled with ups and downs. He completed 20 of 28 throws for 293 yards, the most by a Gator since 2016. His touchdown throw to Freddie Swain on the opening drive of the second half was a thing of beauty. He seemed comfortable and knowledgeable of where to go with the ball on nearly every play.

However, he also threw two interceptions into double coverage and lost a fumble.

All things considered, quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson was pleased with his new signal-caller’s performance.

“He put us in position, and he made some big-time throws and helped us move the ball,” he said. “As always, some stuff that he’s got to continue to clean up and work, but everything is pretty coachable in terms of mistakes we needed to get cleaned up. [I] was proud of the way he stepped up to the challenge and performed at a high level.”

The defense is allowing just 11 points-per-game, so he wants to see Trask be a little more selective on when to be aggressive and push the ball downfield, he said.

Trask said the biggest thing he’s focusing on is being consistent. He got away with the three turnovers against Tennessee, but he likely won’t be as fortunate over the next month.

“In order to be an elite quarterback, you got to be consistent in your performance,” Trask said “So, the biggest thing for me is just treat every rep like it’s your last and overall consistency.”

D-Line Dominance

UF’s defensive line has been nothing short of phenomenal so far this season. They’re tied for first in the country with 20 sacks, including 10 against Miami. They’re first in the SEC and fifth nationally at 9.25 tackles-for-loss per game. They’re surrendering just 92.2 rushing yards per game, 10th nationally.

“I think they’re starting to buy in and believe,” defensive line coach David Turner said. “I tell those guys all the time that as a group, collectively, that we can be pretty good. And I think those guys are starting to understand how it’s important for us to work together, and, if we do that, we will have a chance to find success on defense.”

The edge rushers have led the way. Greenard is second in the conference with 3.5 sacks and tied for first with 5.5 tackles-for-loss. Despite missing most of the last two games with an ankle injury, Jabari Zuniga is fifth in the league with three sacks. Jeremiah Moon ranks third with five tackles-for-loss.

Having dominant edge rushers opens things up for defensive tackles Kyree Campbell and Adam Shuler, Turner said.

“Those guys inside know that we’ve got some guys on the edge that could get pressure and hopefully force the quarterback up into the pocket,” he said. “What we’ve got to do inside is make sure we do a good job of lane integrity and getting to where we’re supposed to be.”

Wilson’s Bounce Back

After missing most of last season with a torn ACL, Marco Wilson got off to an inauspicious start this season. He committed a mind-boggling pass interference penalty on fourth-and-34 on Miami’s last-ditch drive. He played arguably the worst game of his career at Kentucky, as he was beaten multiple times and gave up a touchdown.

Whatever the problem was, he seemed to correct it against the Volunteers. He intercepted his first career pass in the second quarter and delivered the huge hit that led to Burney’s interception in the third quarter.

“I thought that was his best game since I’ve had him,” Grantham said. “If you go back, obviously he got hurt game two last year, but just watching him, he’s a guy that works hard in practice, he’s a really good player that has instincts, that has cover ability and things are going to happen sometimes. You just have to keep playing. He’s done that.

“I think he’s a tough guy. I think when you look at corners, he’s a guy who has good toughness to him. That toughness kind of showed up on [Burney’s interception]. I’ve been pleased with his work ethic and progress. He’ll make plays for us moving forward.”

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