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New defensive backs coach Greg Burns talks challenges through COVID-19 pandemic

UA+football+team+practicing+for+the+first+time+in+the+fall+semester+since+the+pandemic+at+the+University+of+Arizona+in+Tucson%2C+Ariz.%2C+Thursday%2C+Oct.+15%2C+2020.+%28Daily+Wildcat+Photo%2FLauren+Salgado%29
Lauren Salgado
UA football team practicing for the first time in the fall semester since the pandemic at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (Daily Wildcat Photo/Lauren Salgado)

The COVID-19 pandemic was an adjustment for everyone across the country, and that includes new Wildcats’ defensive backs coach Greg Burns, who had to spend the first part of his tenure with the team over Zoom. 

“Yeah,” Burns said with a smile when asked if it was a challenge overseeing a whole secondary through the pandemic. “But it’s coaching, so from a standpoint of not being able to look them in the eye when a video is showing and you’re not able to look them in the face or see their reaction when you are talking about a route concept or trying to get a point across, as a coach I miss that.”

Burns noted that it’s been more of the emotional connection with the players that he missed as going over the actual plays with them was not an issue. 

“The X’s and O’s, the teaching of the scheme and all of that stuff is still the same,” Burns said. 

Burns comes to Tucson with loads of experience, beginning with his playing career where he was a two-year starter in Pullman at Washington State. Arizona will be the fifth Pac-12 team Burns has coached, including two stints at USC where he coached 10 future NFL players during his time there including Troy Polamalu, Darnell Bing and Will Poole among others. 

He was also part of the Trojans national championship teams in 2003 and 2004, where USC went 48-4 during his first tenure with the team. Burns also spent one year coaching in the NFL in 2006 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where Ronde Barber earned All-Pro honors that season. 

This is a Wildcats secondary that comes into the season with loads of experience and Burns sees more than just one leader in this group. 

“The cool part of this group is that I got multiple leaders,” Burns said. “[Lorenzo] Burns is the staple, but he’s going to lead in his own way. I got Christian Roland-Wallace. He’s going to be the guy who will speak his mind when he has the chance to. We got Jarrius Wallace. He’s probably going to be the louder one of the group in regards to being demanding and saying, ‘Hey fellas let’s pick it up.’” 

Coach Burns also noted that he encourages multiple players to step up as leaders no matter what year they are in. 

Redshirt senior Lorenzo Burns is one of the most experienced players in this group, coming off a season where he started all 12 games and led the team in interceptions (four) and pass breakups (seven). 

RELATED: Defensive line coach Stan Eggen looks to motivate young players by bringing passion and energy

Lorenzo Burns has played under a number of different coaches during his time here in Tucson and noted that he has taken it as more of an experience to learn different styles. 

“I don’t see it as being difficult,” Burns said. “I see it as an opportunity for me to learn different coaching styles and different views of the game.”

Burns also noted that he is excited to see what this group has to offer despite all of the changes that have occurred to the coaching group and player personnel. 

“I’m confident in our guys back there,” Burns said. “They’re excited to go out there and play.”

Burns listed a number of the players in the secondary, including Rhedi Short and Jarrius Wallace, noting that they are all ready to go out and show out. 

“Everybody is excited to play and that’s the one thing I’m excited to see, just a whole bunch of guys ready to go out there and ball and have a great opportunity.”

There is going to be a lot of opportunity open up on the defensive side of the ball from last season, most notably with the departure of cornerback — and current Arizona Cardinal — Jace Whittaker. 

“They had the opportunity to learn from the best last year, from the guys who were here last year,” Burns said. “Jace [Whittaker] is now on a 53-man roster, so that’s a great tool you can pick up on from him and being able to take that skillset and that knowledge and apply it to this group and everybody is seeing that and what can be done.”

This is not a defensive group that will have high expectations heading into this upcoming season, so they will be able to play freely with nothing to lose and a lot to gain. 

Burns considered declaring, had the Pac-12 not played this fall, but mentioned that he never considered transferring to a new program. 

“It wasn’t a thought of whether or not I would transfer,” Burns said. “I think that was out of the window, but I think what was in consideration was whether or not I would declare because not having a season and then playing in the spring and then me coming back next year and being 24 years old which you know is very old as a college football player. I think that was more in consideration rather than whether to transfer.”

Burns is looking forward to coming back for his final season and raising his draft stock before he hopes to follow in Whittaker’s footsteps and take his game to the next level. 

“Coming back and being able to up my stock and put more things on film and maybe getting some questions answered from NFL scouts and teams, I just felt that coming back would give me an opportunity to answer all of those questions.”   


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