April 2, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn The Good Word
Freddie Burden was “gone” last fall, yet the Georgia Tech center may have improved despite missing most of spring practice, all summer and the entire 2013 season after suffering a major knee injury about this time last year.
The redshirt sophomore missed the entire season after tearing his right anterior cruciate knee ligament.
As he competes this spring with junior Thomas O’Reilly for a starting job, Burden has more than picked up where he left off. The former Statesboro High tight end looks to be ahead of where he was last spring, when his season ended early in the first scrimmage.
Take it from the Yellow Jackets’ senior O-lineman, right guard Shaq Mason.
“He’s looked pretty good, honestly,” Mason said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s surprised me a lot to already be back in football shape with football strength. He’s looking real good.”
Coaches were excited about Burden last spring before his injury. He’s more athletic than many linemen, and a quick study in picking up the nuances of his still- relatively new position.
At 6-feet-3, 292 pounds, he’s taller than some centers, and more mobile than most. Just don’t expect him to brag.
Burden is utterly comfortable in being interviewed, more like a veteran than a newbie, yet he’s not about to gloat. In him, one senses confidence aplenty with no cockiness and a distinct lack of uncertainty.
“Spring is going well,” he reported. “I’m still trying to learn several things, and get used to playing football again. I’m knocking the rust off.”
To go an entire year without playing or practicing any football is not easy. Yet that probably wasn’t as difficult as suffering on the sidelines. The Jackets suffered a slew of injuries in the offensive line in ’13, and Burden likely would’ve been able to help in substantial fashion if not for his injury.
“That was the biggest thing that killed me inside, but I knew it was for a reason,” he said. “It was God’s plan for me to take the year off, rehab my knee, get stronger, learn the system better and watch my teammates.”
Burden knew nearly the instant he wrenched his knee that it was not a plus. “I was in about the second or third drive,” he explained. “I had an injury in high school (torn knee cartilage). I knew this was worse. It was a freak injury. I was just running down field, and I planted and my knee stayed.”
Burden is a strong candidate to be one of the new faces on the O-line.
Mason is back in his spot, and in line to earn All-ACC honors and perhaps then transition to the NFL.
Every other spot is a guessing game for now.
Trey Braun started eight games last season, and Bryan Chamberlin started seven, but there’s no telling yet where they might fit by the time fall rolls around.
Burden has been getting reps exclusively at center, and is competing chiefly with O’Reilly, an Auburn transfer who played in six games last fall.
He did not play center in high school, although he played some tackle before transitioning out to tight end.
The young man apparently inherited some of his father’s athleticism. Willie Burden was a running back at NC State in the 1970s and went on to play in the Canadian Football League.
“I love it,” Burden said of his new spot. “I knew I was going to play somewhere inside here. The first day [in his redshirt season of 2012, when he was tabbed Scout Team player of the year], they put me at center and I’ve been there since.”
Mason said the virtual first-timer is already better than might be expected at communicating along the line of scrimmage with his fellow blockers, although it’s easier to say that now than it might be when games begin. That’s big for a center.
“He lets the guards know what he has,” Mason said “I’d like to say [communication] is one of his greatest tools. We’re never out there saying, `Freddie, whadya got?'” It’s not like Burden spent his down time last summer and fall strictly on rehabilitation. He studied like mad, and not just in the classroom.
There is growing evidence that he learned while he was out, that he wasn’t gone at all – just unavailable.
“The coaches were really pushing me. The only thing that was different was I was rehabbing,” Burden said. “I’m further ahead mentally, just knowing the offense and my position better, and all the positions on the offensive line.
“There’s a difference [up front] because we have a lot of new faces. It’s great for young energy to come together and form a new energy about ourselves and . . . see if we can change things up a little bit.”
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