September 14, 2011

Burden's move to offense not so simple

At first glance, it seemed like moving Chandler Burden from defensive end to left tackle made a lot of sense.

Burden, now a senior, played offensive line in high school. His size (296 pounds in 2009) was massive for a defensive end, but seemed to fit an offensive lineman. And his experience as a defensive end, where he started three games as a sophomore in 2009, might even give him an advantage as he moved to the other side of the ball to protect quarterbacks.

But Burden says none of those things really helped him in his transition. That didn't stop him from quietly putting together a solid season last year as part of a Kentucky offensive line that allowed the second-fewest sacks in the Southeastern Conference.

"He moves around well," senior guard Stuart Hines said. "He's a really strong guy. It was just a matter of him coming over to offense and learning the techniques and plays."

Learning those techniques presented the biggest challenge for Burden. He asked the coaches if he could move to offense in the spring of 2010 and despite almost no experience as an offensive lineman, started 12 games at left tackle last year.

"I was very pleased with his athletic ability," offensive line coach Mike Summers said. "His learning curve was pretty steep, because he didn't have a lot of background, but I was pretty excited about how he caught on to what we were able to do."

Hines said early in the season, Burden would get frustrated at times. As a defensive end, he was used to reacting mid-play. There wasn't much thinking involved in it.

Offensive line was completely different. Before the ball was even snapped, he had to identify the defense and pick up his assignment. He says there were sometimes as many as four assignments on a single play. It took him some time to get used to that.

"My pass protection was always good but in terms of knowing the plays and the techniques, it took a while," Burden said. "By the end of the year I was a lot better."

He hit another bump when he had shoulder surgery and missed the BBVA Compass Bowl before sitting out much of spring practice to recover. Things got tougher in fall camp when Burden and three other starting offensive linemen missed time due to injuries.

Among those was Hines, the left guard who lines up next to Burden on nearly every play. Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said Burden hasn't quite played to the level he did last year because the offensive line has struggled to play together.

Still, Burden has made progress this year. The biggest thing he's improved on is learning how to understand defenses before the ball is snapped.

"If you know where guys are going to go before a play, it helps out a lot," he said.

Even before that, though, Hines said he was a "natural" for the position.

"He took really well to it," Hines said. "At the beginning he was struggling a little bit trying to pick up all the stuff at once. But once he got into his groove, he started learning the techniques and plays, he fell right into the role."

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