Emotional Vontaze Burfict Is Something To Watch

John Grieshop

We talk about the steady Vontaze Burfict, Ed Reed's departure in Houston and four reasons why the Bengals are fun to watch.

Say what you will about his personal fouls, no player on Cincinnati's roster personifies Mike Zimmer's attitude and Marvin Lewis' "get it done" philosophy than second-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict. His instincts and nose for the football makes him an ideal middle linebacker on a defensive roster saturated with talent. Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and Brandon Thompson consume opposing linemen while Vontaze Burfict cleans up with a nasty edge promoted by an old school mindset.

Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Leon Hall may receive most of the attention, but Burfict just gets it done.

Yet, his usual path to become one of the team's best defensive players was unusual.

With his draft stock plummeting, Burfict targeted Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis with letters, calls, just pleading for a shot -- either as a draft pick or college free agent. Despite questionable in-game management, Lewis has an uncanny ability to reach out to troubled players. Burfict had already interested him, but like most of the NFL, he was concerned.

Lewis eventually traveled to Arizona. Not because of Burfict. Rather for his daughter's wedding. At some point, Lewis took a side-trip to meet with the Arizona State linebacker and the two huddled over a playbook, talked football and challenges facing Burfict. Lewis was impressed.

After no one drafted Burfict during the 2012 NFL draft, the Bengals signed him as a college free agent.

"There’s no down side. What’s the down side?" Lewis said last year during the team's rookie minicamp. "The positives are: Get in shape. You weren't in shape your last season at Arizona State. Get rid of the selfishness in your play. Learn how to bend your knees. Let us coach you and let’s see if you are what people thought you could have been. Because I have no idea who you are. And so you’re starting from scratch here."

Mike Zimmer admitted during HBO's Hard Knocks that he was hard on Burfict -- the old saying is that if your coach is yelling at you, then you're alright. But once he stops, then you should be concerned. Burfict was still concerned heading into training camp that he wasn't winning Zimmer's love, but the defensive coordinator smiled, clearly having been won over.

Not only did Burfict get his opportunity after Thomas Howard's injury prior to week two last year, he has started every game since. By his second-year, he was calling plays in the huddle and now he leads the team with 128 tackles -- on pace for 204 on the season.

An emotional leader with the talent to back it up, Burfict hasn't just won over his teammates. His play and attitude have become infectious and made them better.

"His demeanor is something that’s contagious," says safety Taylor Mays. "It makes you want to play that style of football. You don’t want to let a guy like that down."

"He’s the real deal," says linebacker Rey Maualuga. "It’s always about competition. Who is going to get to the ball first? Being able to play alongside him with that fire, that energy that he wants to get to the ball first, that makes everything that much easier for me. Flat out, he’s what you want in a linebacker. One, he’s mean. Two, he can walk the walk and talk the talk. He’s not mean to us, he’s mean to the opponents. He’s a great teammate."

The chink in Burfict's armor is that his style tends to get him into trouble. He currently leads the Bengals with five personal fouls (six if you include a 15-yard facemask) this year.

"He’s a good kid; he’s the kind of football player you like," says defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. "He’s got a little edge to him, but he’s a smart guy, too. He just has to be smart and not do stupid things. He’s a smart guy, and he just needs to play football."

***

Ed Reed isn't the Ed Reed that you remember

The Houston Texans surprisingly placed veteran safety Ed Reed on waivers Tuesday after only seven games into a three-year deal worth $15 million. Per Mike Florio with Pro Football Talk, Reed pocketed $5 million for five starts with a $2 million signing bonus, $2 million guaranteed in a salary advance and $1 million guaranteed in base salary for 2013.

Reed had been demoted after a horrific performance against the Kansas City Chiefs, missing tackles and allowing every pass to reach the receiver that he covered. On the season, Reed allowed an opposing quarterback rating of 158.3, including a 64-yard touchdown pass against the San Francisco 49ers.

Reed had publicly questioned his benching for weeks and then a day after the Texans lost to the Arizona Cardinals, he said that the Texans, who have lost seven straight, were "outcoached and outplayed". We're not sure if his comments were the catalyst for his release, but if being denounced publicly as being outcoached led to a release, it's most likely that the Texans were going to release him sooner or later anyway.

Is he done?

Maybe.

Could the Bengals use him?

Currently there's been no word floating about any interest between the Bengals and Reed.

However, we look at it this way. For a Texans organization that's currently 2-7 with major needs for talent, it speaks measures about where Reed is in terms of age and health.

The Ed Reed you remember in Baltimore doesn't exist anymore. Ed Reed, the free agent, is a familiar name that lacks the familiar production that once made him a Bengals killer. That guy that you remember is gone.

***

Four Reasons Why The Bengals Are Fun

Giovani Bernard

When the football ninja does his football ninja things, my usual reaction involves me jumping out of my chair and doing a few combination punches as if I'm an experienced champion boxer reliving my glorious years.

Jab, jab, uppercut, jab. Get tired. Sit down.

In ten career games, Bernard has generated 723 yards from scrimmage (leads all AFC rookies) and is tied for a team-leading seven touchdowns (four rushing, three receiving) with Marvin Jones (seven receiving scores).

At this pace, Bernard will collect 1,157 yards from scrimmage and score 11 touchdowns with a 5.4 yard/touch average (rushing and receiving).

Watching how he twists his body through tackles while sporting an impressive low center of gravity pays for the ticket of admission alone. He's the type of player that when you blink your eyes, he has already run a circle around you, completed the obstacle in American Gladiator, all while writing his memoirs titled, "Why I like minivans."

Mike Zimmer's defense, who says, "F*** YOU" to opposing offenses

While Cincinnati's offense is looking for answers, the defense continues to bloody lips and turn big offensive linemen into little boys with sensitivity issues.

Especially the fearsome tandem of Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, arguably the best defensive end duo in the NFL. In the last five games, Johnson, who has become an excellent run stopper, has posted 20 tackles, six hits on the quarterback, 12 hurries, a quarterback sack and 12 stops (which constitute a failure on offense.

Dunlap has been even more fearsome as a well-rounded and complete player -- a huge departure from the situational pass rusher. In the last five contests, Dunlap has three sacks, six hits on the quarterback, 16 hurries, 10 stops (which constitute a failure on offense), 18 tackles and three (THREE!!) forced fumbles.

These are the guys expected to carry the Geno Atkins torch on everything else that Brandon Thompson can't cover.

Against the Baltimore Ravens, both players combined for 12 tackles, two sacks, three hits on the quarterback, nine pressures, eight stops (which constitute a failure on offense) and a forced fumble.

And stop asking Michael Johnson about the loss of Geno Atkins. He doesn't like it when you talk about Geno Atkins.

Bill Goldberg slobbers says, "Who's Next?"

Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins goes down for the season with an ACL tear. Brandon Thompson plays the serviceable run defender with some animation after doing his job in a collective pile of bodies.

Rey Maualuga is recovering from an MCL sprain and could be out until after the bye week. Taylor Mays is gone with a shoulder injury and Michael Boley is dealing with a hamstring. Vincent Rey, the next man up, steps in. What does he do? Well, he only became the first player in franchise history to record three quarterback sacks and an interception in the same game. That's all.

We're still waiting on the proverbial next-man at cornerback but at least Adam Jones is serviceable. Dre Kirkpatrick? You're out there, right? Tap, tap. Hello?

Andrew Whitworth has been dealing with knee issues this year. Anthony Collins plays with the confidence of a Pro Bowler who could easily be a starter on a tackle-hungry organization.

A.J. Green

No matter how badly Andy Dalton is perceived to be struggling, it's not translating to his BFF receiver.

In his past five games, A.J. Green has recorded 652 yards receiving, setting a franchise record with five-straight 100-yard performances and six 100-yard receiving games in one season. In three of the past five games, he's scored a touchdown, including an 82-yarder against the Jets and an exciting 51-yard game-tying score against the Baltimore Ravens.

Yet, for as well as he's playing, his best game of the season came in week one with 162 yards receiving and two touchdowns -- both season highs.

If he continues at this pace, Green will generate 1,621 yards receiving on 104 receptions and nearly 10 touchdowns.

When the football is thrown in Green's direction, the excitement is that anything could happen.

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