Saints new WR coach Kodi Burns has critical role, major task ahead as team revamps position

Kodi Burns isn’t entering an easy situation.

The Saints’ new wide receivers coach is taking over a position group that desperately needs a makeover, and his star player, Michael Thomas, is not always the easiest personality to manage. Burns’ addition won’t garner the headlines and analysis that came with some of the other changes the team has made to the coaching staff, but his role will be critically important.

Burns is taking over for Curtis Johnson, a member of Sean Payton’s original coaching staff who bounced on and off that staff a few times over the years. Johnson was responsible for developing many players over the years, but new head coach Dennis Allen felt it was time to make a change and let Johnson go after being promoted from defensive coordinator. Burns joins the Saints after spending last year at the University of Tennessee and the four previous seasons at Auburn.

Burns also played quarterback and wide receiver for Auburn and made a 35-yard touchdown catch during the 2011 BCS National Championship game. The coach is only 33 years old and will bring a different perspective to a coaching staff filled with much older counterparts who have previous ties to Payton’s system. Burns is a total outsider, much like Ryan Nielsen when he became a surprise hire on Allen’s defensive staff a few years ago. Sometimes, having a fresh set of eyes and a different point of view can be beneficial for a coaching staff.

Burns looks like a rising star, but appearances are appearances, and he’ll have to prove it. He should have an early opportunity to put a stamp on this depth chart by working with some new players, perhaps even a rookie receiver selected early in the draft. How this group comes together and develops will be a significant factor toward having a successful offensive season.

But much like the story about Pete Carmichael becoming offensive coordinator, this one will be all about the players, and the Saints have a lot of work to do here. The depth chart has Thomas, Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harty, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and many other guys who are past their prime or yet to prove anything.

Thomas is one of the best talents in the NFL when healthy, but there are many questions with the players behind him. Callaway still has significant room for growth. He started to come into his own last season and appeared to learn better how to make physical plays as the season progressed, but he could still become a more refined route runner and clean up some issues with drops. When used properly, Harty is a proven weapon, and Humphrey is a solid depth player.

But the Saints will have to get better pass catchers across the board. There has been some growing chatter behind the scenes that the team could take a receiver early in the draft, though that should not be a surprise given the clear need to get more players in at the spot. New Orleans could also target someone in free agency, and there could be some big names to hit the open market with guys like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin Davante Adams, Will Fuller and Juju Smith-Schuster all on expiring deals. Seeing one of the big names come in would be a surprise, but you never say never.

Still, the good thing for Burns is that things cannot get much worse. Having Thomas back alone guarantees an uptick in production from this spot, but it will be more about the development of players. Burns will also have an opportunity to work with young players like Easop Winston and Kawaan Baker.

There is nowhere else on the roster that needs more work than this position. Allen decided to make a change here because he knows better than anyone else what the team has at this spot and the approach taken. He came up here as a secondary coach, played safety in college, and, perhaps more than anything, is an expert at defensive coverages.

New blood and new thinking at that particular spot could make a lot of sense. And Burns’ input doesn’t have to be just limited to the wide receivers. Bringing in a new person opens the door for new ideas and new thinking. He can share some ideas or insight into how college offenses operate and maybe help add some things to the mix.

But this is an important job, perhaps more so than anyone realizes right now, and Burns will have his work cut out for him as this team revamps the position.

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