The Apprentice Vontaze Burfict Is Making An Impression

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 12: Vontaze Burfict #55 of the Cincinnati Bengals listens with other linebackers during a rookie minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium on May 12, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Vontaze Burfict. Undrafted free agent signed by the Cincinnati Bengals hours after the 2012 NFL draft. Somewhat controversial from his sloppy predraft process, which transformed early-round projections into a not-drafted-at-all reality. Beyond that. Nothing. Well let me rephrase. Nothing controversial. In fact most of the time that Burfict is participating during Cincinnati's OTA sessions, he's become a sponge and apprentice with starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga as his mentor.

"I watch everything that Rey does," Burfict said after Wednesday's practice. "I mean, I literally watch everything he does. He's probably thinking, 'Man, this guy is watching me too much.' "

Maualuga understands. He recalls his own experiences being mentored by Rashad Jeanty as the strong-side outside linebacker in 2009.

"I know he's coming into a fresh, new start. Every time I come off the field he asks why I did what I did," Maualuga said. "Why I did it this way and not that way. I looked at Rashad that way."

What's perhaps most interesting (if not encouraging) resides in this paragraph:

Paul Brown Stadium observers are saying not only is Maualuga playing faster, but he's also playing with a smile on his face. Guenther says he doesn't recall Maualuga making a mental mistake in the OTAs. Burfict, who came in with the hard knocks of being undisciplined and lacking instincts, has drawn the praise of Guenther for how he continues to play fast even though he's been saddled with making the calls out of a foreign playbook. With what looks to be two backer spots available and players like 2011 third-round pick Dontay Moch and 2010 fourth-rounder Roddrick Muckelroy in the mix, Burfict has asserted himself as no longer a long shot.

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