Quality Over Quantity

Kevin Burnett's intelligence and character clearly outshine his superior physical skills. Need proof? Just ask one of his former coaches at Tennessee.

"Kevin's not going to be like other rookies. He's going to pick things up fast -- real fast."

The description of linebacker Kevin Burnett, selected by the Cowboys out of Tennessee in the second round of the NFL Draft came from Eric Roark, who was at Valley Ranch Sunday to watch the third and final day of the team's rookie mini-camp. Now the defensive ends coach at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Roark was on the staff at Tennessee when Burnett arrived in Knoxville.

"When players first get to college, a lot of them are overwhelmed," Roark said. "There's so much for them to take in -- two-a-days, living away from home, getting registered for classes … Kevin wasn't like that. A lot of guys never graduate -- Kevin's working on his master's degree."

On paper, Burnett has everything coaches want in a linebacker. He carries 230 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. Having been clocked at 4.59 in the 40-yard dash, the former safety has better-than-average speed. After sitting out the 2002 season on a medical redshirt because of a severe knee injury, Burnett showed his toughness by returning to the field to collect 181 tackles over his last two seasons with the Volunteers, earning all-Southeastern Conference recognition in each season.

But those physical features aren't what head coach Bill Parcells likes best.

Coming off his year of rehabilitation, the Volunteers voted Burnett as a co-captain for the 2003 season. In 2004, he and offensive tackle Mike Muñoz became the first Tennessee players in 80 years to be elected co-captains in consecutive seasons.

"Being a captain of a team means something to me," Parcells said, "especially being captain of a winning team. Kevin was captain twice."

Burnett's intelligence and status as repeat captain at UT caused Parcells to parrot Roark's assessment of Burnett's future:

"He (Burnett) is going to be a quick learner," Parcells said. "He's sharp. He's going to get it -- quick."

The Carson, Calif., native makes no brash statements about his immediate role, but he did say he doesn't anticipate a rookie season mired on the bench as nothing more than a much-ballyhooed observer.

"I definitely expect to come in and contribute," Burnett said.

Parcells drew headlines during and since the draft by comparing top draft choice DeMarcus Ware to Lawrence Taylor. Burnett was asked if his new coach had compared him to any former players.

"Coach Parcells said that if he can't compare you to one of his former players, you wouldn't be here," Burnett said, declining to name exactly which former Parcells player it was to whom he was compared.

Some of the gossip around the locker room -- among some members of the media -- was that it might be Harry Carson who came to mind for Parcells when looking at Burnett. Carson was a fiercely competitive, smart, a punishing hitter and durable. Perhaps more than any of that, Carson -- along with Taylor -- was the heart and soul of the Giants' defense. Could Burnett fill similar roles in Dallas?

"Being a two-time captain at Tennessee was an honor," Burnett said. "When I got here, (the coaches) told me 'come in here and show us why you earned it.' "

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