Juston Burris Feels Right at Home With Panthers
When Juston Burris signed a free agent deal to join the Carolina Panthers back in March, it represented a homecoming for the former NC State defensive back.
But there was more to his decision than the opportunity to play closer to his family in Raleigh and Charlotte.
He was also sold on the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the Panthers' rebuilding effort under charismatic new coach Matt Rhule.
"Coach Rhule ... hearing the stories about how players really wanted to run through a brick wall for him, that's something that when the opportunity came about -- along with many other factors like coming home -- that (he) was a guy I wanted to come back to Carolina and play for," Burris said on a recent Zoom conference with the media. "This was a great opportunity that presented itself. It's just a blessing to be here."
A former fourth-round draft pick of the New York Jets in 2016 who also spent time with the Oakland Raiders, Burris has played the past two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
Despite being waived by the Browns just before opening day last September, he was brought back in Week 3 and started his first game back, against the Jets.
He wound up putting together his best season as a pro with 32 tackles, two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble, a performance he parlayed into a two-year, $8 million contract with the new-look Panthers.
It's already money well spent, according to Rhule.
"One of the unsung heroes of camp, one of the guys we signed that I thought was going to be good, but i just love his work ethic and attention to detail, is Juston Burris," the Panthers' rookie coach said after Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage. "He's exactly the type of guy I want to build this thing around -- tough, fast, explosive, versatile."
Burris' value as a leader and an example for his teammates to follow shouldn't come as a surprise. He was so popular among his teammates that they voted him the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner.
His influence in the locker room, however, is only part of the reason Rhule considers him such an important building block to the Panthers' foundation moving forward.
"He doesn't talk really loud, but he plays loudly," Rhule said. "He plays on special teams. He doesn't complain.
"Burris, to me, is one of the guys in this camp that you say to yourself, man, we've got to keep this guy out here and really let him have an effect on the entire franchise."
Although he played cornerback for the Wolfpack, starting three of his four seasons while amassing six interceptions, 23 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and 155 tackles while helping State to three bowl games, Burris has been a safety in the NFL.
He is slated to start alongside former rival Tre Boston, who played his college ball at North Carolina, when the Panthers open their season against the newly relocated Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 13.
Not much is expected of the Panthers this season given the wholesale changes that have been made throughout the organization.
But that only serves as motivation for the 26-year-old former Wolfpack star and his teammates to prove the naysayers wrong.
"I think you've got a bunch of guys who like, even a guy like me in his fifth year on the team or Trey, who's in his seventh year, we're still hungry," Burris said. "We still have a lot to prove.
"We have a lot that we want to accomplish and we think this is the perfect time and the right situation to come in with new regime and get that done. A lot of people might not know our names yet, but we have the pieces to be a great secondary, to be a great defense and be a great team. I think we can surprise a lot of people."
The fact that he has the opportunity to such an effort so close to home is only a bonus.
"It's great to be back in the city, back in the state," said Burris, who has four pass interceptions and 14 pass breakups, to go along with 71 tackles in 52 career NFL games. "I've lived in Charlotte for four years now and just to come back here has been great. I'm glad to be here."
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