March 16, 2017
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Freddie Burden’s been restless and he figures to be half happy/half nuts at Georgia Tech’s Pro Day on Friday.
With an NFL career in the offing, the Yellow Jackets’ center broke his right fibula in the third quarter of the TaxSlayer Bowl on Dec. 31 and following surgery soon thereafter, he began rehabilitation. He’s walking again, but can’t run yet, and when NFL scouts, coaches and team officials gather Friday at the John & Mary Brock practice facility, he won’t be able to participate in much of the activities.
At least he’ll get to talk to professionals for the first time.
“I’ll do all the measurables: height, weight, arm length, hand size, and I will bench press,” he said. “As far as running and jumping, I think in May, I’ll be up and running . . . [NFL officials] have really been just in touch with my agent up to now. Everybody kind of wants to know when I’ll be healthy.
“I hate it that I’m not going to be able to show my athletic ability, but I know everything happens for a reason. I think I have a lot of good film.”
Starting 38 of his final 39 games at Tech, Burden built a nice reputation. He was honorable mention all-ACC in 2014 and, last season, ACC coaches tabbed him to the conference’s third team. ESPN.com named him first-team all-ACC, the only center from the league to earn such honors.
He won’t run the 40-yard dash Friday, nor do cone drills or any other agility drills. The thought of that has kind of messed with his mind.
“It does, it really does. You can’t do much of anything but sit around and think about life,” Burden said. “You talk to your mentors, your parents, your friends, teammates.
“My mom and my brother have been encouraging me the whole time. They’ve been keeping me positive, knowing that God has a space for me. If I’m meant to play in the NFL, I’ll play in the NFL.”
At 6-feet-4 and about 300 pounds, Burden has assets.
He was a tight end at Statesboro High School and has better-than-average athleticism for an offensive lineman. His arms are modest in length, but he’s more flexible than most and agile. Tech’s blocking scheme is fairly unique, but that didn’t keep former teammate Shaq Mason from being drafted by the New England Patriots in 2015 and starting immediately for the team that rallied past the Falcons in last month’s Super Bowl.
“I think I can play anywhere along the line except left tackle,” Burden said. “I think most teams would want me as an interior lineman.
“Nobody does what we do. I’ll have to learn a completely different system and I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking to talk to some scouts and seeing what they’re thinking, as well as seeing some other teammates do well.”
Burden’s been down the rehab road before. After redshirting as a freshman in 2012, he tore an anterior cruciate in his knee in ’13 and missed that season.
“I think this [injury] was a little tougher because of the timing but it’s a little shorter rehab,” he said. “The ACL kind of humbled me as a person in terms of me not thinking that football is everything. It made me realize that I needed to work harder in the classroom.”
Having graduated with a degree in business administration, Burden’s focus for the past two-plus months has been on getting healthy with the help of Georgia Tech’s director of sports medicine, Jay Shoop, and director of football player development, John Sisk.
“I’m doing a lot of hydro stuff in the pool, lifting upper body as well, working with Coach Sisk in the meantime, boxing and seated stuff,” Burden said. “Usually, he gives me a chair and we put on the gloves and he has the pads on his hands and we’ll do seated ropes. Basically, like a rope and it’s around a big column and you swing it up and down . . . cardio stuff.”
Burden’s agent, Atlanta’s Ryan Rubin, keeps giving him pep talks.
“I know him through Shaq Mason. He’s his agent as well. He just says to keep high hopes,” Freddie said. “He says, `Stay positive, everything is going be OK.’ “
An end is near, but it figures to be a beginning as well and not only for Burden.
Several Jackets will work out for NFL personnel Friday, when former quarterback Justin Thomas will go through the paces and try to convince teams that he can fit in the big time as a defensive back or hybrid running back/receiver.
He and Burden will leave Tech soon, and even if Freddie’s not drafted, he’s likely to earn a shot to try out with an NFL team as an undrafted free agent.
Toward these potential ends, he keeps working out with the help of former teammate Patrick Gamble, a senior defensive lineman who also has been rehabbing a lower-body injury.
“Pat Gamble has been great; he’s picked me up every day,’ Burden said. “He’s been excellent.”
Burden said, “I’ll find out soon,” when the nine screws that were surgically installed in his lower right leg will be removed.
In the meantime, he’s enjoying a few final vestiges of the Tech student experience, like attending basketball games. He was in attendance for Tuesday night’s NIT win over Indiana.
“The student section was really deep with Coach [Josh] Pastner doing what he did [buying tickets for students],” Burden said. “I see [basketball players] all the time. We see each other in the training room. I congratulate them. It’s been great.”