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Quacking the Roster: Edge Transfer Jordan Burch

Film review from Burch’s three seasons as a DE at South Carolina before transferring to Oregon

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Duke’s Mayo Bowl - North Carolina v South Carolina
South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jordan Burch (3) sacks North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (7) during the Dukes Mayo Bowl
Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Burch was recruited to South Carolina as part of the 2020 class, rated a 5-star (.9954) in the 24/7 composite. He played as a backup defensive end throughout his true freshman and sophomore seasons (though 2020 didn’t count against his eligibility due to the NCAA’s covid holiday and he still has three to play two remaining), getting more playing time towards the end of 2021 and starting his first full game in that year’s bowl due to an NFL opt-out. For his junior year in 2022, both the ends who were ahead of him previously had departed the team and he became the full-time starter, getting over 85% of meaningful snaps in the 2022 games I charted with surprisingly little rotation, far less than the Gamecocks used at the position in prior seasons.

South Carolina’s defense employs what’s best understood as a 4-down front, though it’s a bit non-traditional as they’re almost always in nickel and one end frequently plays with his fist up instead of in the dirt. What is traditional about it – and very different from Oregon’s 3-down Mint front – is that they use two defensive tackles, and the two ends line up outside the offensive tackle or in-line tight end. Defensive ends in this front — like Burch — have traditional DE jobs: setting the edge on outside runs, and rushing the QB from the outside (or sometimes stunting inside) on passing plays. By contrast, in the Mint/Tite front defensive ends are bigger and line up inside the offensive tackles to clog B-gaps, and the outside run containment and pass-rushing jobs go to various outside and inside linebackers.

From watching Burch’s film at South Carolina, I think he was asked to bulk up a bit and was most recently listed on their official site at 275 lbs. My guess is that after transferring to Oregon, rather than becoming a big B-gap clogging DE — a position the Ducks are deep at — Burch will instead slim down a little, remain on the edge, and become either a strongside or weakside OLB, at which the Ducks have only one returning experienced player (#19 OLB Funa). I’ll be very interested to see where exactly he lines up during the Spring game on April 29th, but my expectation is that the starting weakside “Jack” OLB job is Burch’s to lose, with Funa at strongside and the redshirt and true freshmen competing for backup roles.

My general observation about Burch from watching his film from a freshman through his most recent bowl game late last December (which I think was his best performance to date) is that he’s an extremely well polished player even at a young age. He has a full inventory of pass-rush moves, sets the edge against the run extraordinarily well (which requires a lot of patience and is a tough thing to teach athletically gifted young men), shows rush lane discipline and has almost no negative marks on my tally sheet, and in every game I charted he never drew a single penalty flag. The biggest knock I have on Burch is that I haven’t seen him show an elite first step in terms of getting off the snap in the pass rush, though it’s possible that with a change in scenery, a little weight loss, and more rotation, he might develop it.

To that end, I think the biggest area of Burch’s game where a scheme change might be beneficial is the inside pass rush. On my tally sheet these were by far his most effective set of moves on a per-play basis, but South Carolina didn’t employ stunts, simulated pressures, or exotic blitzes very often and so he didn’t get to show them off very much. Here are some examples of when he did:

(Reminder – you can use the button in the lower right corner to control playback speed)

  1. :00 – Burch really sells the outside move first, that’s what gets the RT moving and his inside arm flat against his body, and allows this inside spin move to succeed.
  2. :19 – Pretty rare six-man blitz, with a T-E stunt on the offense’s right. Burch gets through the RG and the back to flush the QB.
  3. :32 – This is 2022 and Burch has switched from jersey #3 to #5. Nice inside swim move to beat the LT.
  4. :41 – This one’s unfortunate in two ways, first that it was so rare for South Carolina to call a double twist like this because they were pretty effective, and second because Burch had what should have been a great 3rd-down stop stolen from him after demolishing the RG on such a lucky throw.

I also thought Burch’s long arms and leg power were able to generate an impressive bullrush, something that a few SEC offensive tackles were evidently willing to go on record about as well. Some examples:

  1. :00 – This was the first really great bullrush of Burch’s career, with the LT dumped in the QB’s lap, affecting his accuracy and resulting in an incompletion (the replay angle made it even more clear but it was disrupted with an obnoxious sideline interview I’ve chosen to exclude).
  2. :09 – Here instead of pushing the RT into the QB, Burch works him aside then gets an arm up to alter the throw, resulting in an uncatchable pass.
  3. :15 – Just a three-man rush here, with Burch crunching the LT, speeding up the timer, and I think getting a hand on the QB before release, resulting in a harmless short pass on 3rd & long followed by a punt.
  4. :25 – Burch had been dumping the LT onto his rear end like this for much of the first two and a half quarters of the bowl game so the QB just takes off immediately this time. Burch reverses, gets a hand on him, and the QB does something foolish.

I have dozens of clips of Burch beating the tackle around the edge on outside pass rush moves, and in South Carolina’s defensive scheme that’s what he’s asked to do on the vast majority of opponents’ dropback passing plays. He’s consistently able to hurry the quarterback, get a hand in his face, swat the ball, and contain him on a scramble. However, what is relatively rare on both my tally sheet and his official statline is generating sacks this way. I think these videos should illustrate why:

  1. :00 – Burch gets around the LT, the blocker is completely turned and lunging for him and the QB has to speed up for a quick throw to avoid a sack which results in a throw into traffic and a tip.
  2. :13 – I have eight more clips from this game alone in which both Burch and the other South Carolina edge beat their tackle around the edge, but it’s the other guy who makes contact with the QB first while Burch does something good – like the tipped ball, here – but not great like a sack.
  3. :32 – Burch gets around the LT; I think the QB can sense him and he makes a quick throw in his progression as a result, which is short of the sticks on 3rd down so it’s a win. Improvement would constitute bending under the tackle faster at a flatter angle, to get to the QB sooner.
  4. :38 – Again, both edges have their tackle beat. QBs are taught to dip out of this situation to their right but that’s not an option because of Burch so he certainly contributes to the sack, but he’s not the first guy through and he doesn’t get credit for it in the stat book.

First step aside, I’m pretty impressed with Burch’s overall quickness and ability to change direction during a play, which lets him turn some snaps in which the QB might have escaped or improvised an out-of-pocket play into defensive wins. Some examples:

  1. :00 – This is a running QB with some pretty good wheels, but he can’t escape through a pretty big front door after Burch beats the LT around the edge.
  2. :14 – The offense is trying a quick snap here, the defense isn’t fully ready and I don’t really think the offense totally is either. The play gets blown up and Burch is clearly getting held by the RT, the flag would have been declined.
  3. :31 – This was the closest thing to a sim I saw in a couple years of film from South Carolina. It succeeds in getting Burch unblocked as the LT takes the inside defender. Even though it’s a steeper angle he has more than enough footspeed to get to the QB, force a useless throw, and most importantly, pull up to avoid a roughing flag.
  4. :48 – Nice pursuit of the QB here, first inside as it looks like that’s where he’s going, then getting off the RT and chasing him to the sideline for a loss.

I also think Burch is pretty canny when it comes to misdirection plays like RPOs or screen passes, and I like the discipline he shows with making the smart play instead of one which might hurt the team with overaggression:

  1. :00 – The two things that wouldn’t work on this swing pass would be backing up and trying to get to the receiver, or beelining for the QB to try and hit him. Instead Burch smartly diagnoses the play, plants himself right in the lane, reads the QB’s eyes, and alters the throw so that the receiver has to make a diving catch and only gets a single yard.
  2. :09 – This isn’t really Burch’s play to make, but he gets off the LT’s block anyway and helps with the tackle on the outside RB screen for a 3rd-down stop.
  3. :19 – Burch is the read man on this RPO, he stays on the mesh long enough for the QB to pull it, then gets a hand in the QB’s face and forces a weird throw, making contact but not drawing an RPS flag.
  4. :25 – Here’s an RPO with a bluffing TE, Burch knows that his assignment is to let that guy go and hand him to the ILB and get to the QB. Again, contact but no RPS.

Against the run, the most important thing for Burch’s position is setting the edge – maintaining outside leverage against the tackle (or tight end, if he’s lined up at the end of the formation on Burch’s side) so that if the runner goes that way he can disengage to make the tackle, draw a holding flag if the blocker won’t let him, or force the ballcarrier back inside where the defense has numbers. This was what really caught my attention as a strength of Burch’s even as a very young player – it’s maybe the least sexy job in all of football but he did it perfectly on virtually every snap. Some examples:

  1. :00 – Burch rotated into this drive late as a backup, and the holding flag he earned on this play – by maintaining proper outside leverage and the TE not letting him go – killed it and forced a field goal.
  2. :11 – Outside leverage — first against the LT, then the H-back – makes the ballcarrier bounce back into the B-gap. Watch Burch’s helmet, he’s following the play the entire time and helps with the tackle after forcing it back inside.
  3. :20 – Wide zone play this time, Burch has to widen quickly to stay outside the LT on this play, but he does it and makes the back cut inside him. Burch even gets off the LT to help with the tackle.
  4. :31 – Gets off the RT, chases the back inside, then chases him back outside again, makes the tackle for loss. Really impressive play in outside run stopping technique.

Edge players are also the read defender on option plays and QB keeper runs, with the added degree of difficulty of not lighting up a runner of whom the officials (accurately or not) are perceived as being overly protective. Again, I thought Burch showed a lot of polish in his technique at this role:

  1. :00 – The key to stopping the option as the read man is delay, delay, delay, but eventually force the pitch, because by then your teammates should be there to get the back. This is just how you do it.
  2. :09 – This is an old Tom Osborne power read play, it’s dependent on the read end not being fast enough to reverse himself and chase down the QB after he keeps it so he’ll have a one-on-one against the safety. Not so with Burch.
  3. :18 – This is an inside keeper with an option to pitch, it’s tough to defend if the LG gets to the ILB cleanly like this. Burch does a nice job figuring it out and getting off the LT for the tackle to minimize the damage.
  4. :24 – This is a triple-option RPO, with Burch being read twice. He stays on the QB not the RB (correctly) the first time, then stays outside to eliminate the toss to the TE. His job is basically done at that point, but he helps with the tackle without drawing a flag.

Power-blocked runs didn’t go Burch’s way very often, a curiosity given the SEC’s reputation, but I thought he found ways of contributing that were fun to watch:

  1. :00 – Here’s a G-T counter, it’s supposed to fool the line into following the pullers to the wrong side of the play. It doesn’t, Burch goes right for the back; though he wriggles free he’s slowed up enough that his teammates clean up for minimal gain.
  2. :07 – Burch is on the backside of this power run, with the C and RG pinning the DTs and the TE trying to cut him. But Burch just jumps over him, chases down the back from behind, and gets the tackle.
  3. :16 – The RG is pulling around into Burch on this play, and he’s taking it with exactly the proper outside leverage to prevent the back from getting through. Burch even muscles the RG aside and helps with the tackle after the back bounces away and tries to improvise.
  4. :27 – This is textbook on how to handle a G-T pull – Burch hits the outside shoulder of the pulling LG, sheds him, then fights through the pulling LT too in order to make the tackle.

Finally, while the DE in a 4-down system typically isn’t too involved in stopping inside zone runs, there were several plays in which Burch stood out as making an important assist:

  1. :00 – Burch is to the strongside here, not really key to stopping this inside run but he is actively diagnosing it and fighting through the TE’s block to get to the back and help with the tackle.
  2. :08 – Here the RT’s assignment is to punch through Burch to get up to the ILB and open a second-level hole for the back. Instead Burch throws the RT down and that ILB makes the tackle.
  3. :15 – On this play the offense is in a heavy 12-personnel look but South Carolina, non-traditionally, is staying in their nickel configuration. Burch splits the RT/TE combo and blows up the back at the line of scrimmage.
  4. :25 – The slicing TE is supposed to kick Burch out here, but instead he sidesteps it and makes the tackle for minimal gain.