Coming out of the draft, one could argue that there is not a single player who has more to prove than Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict. Early in the draft season, Burfict was projected as a first round selection but after a horrid combine effort and an even worse pro day, Burfict went undrafted and was eventually picked up by the Bengals as an Undrafted Free Agent.
Today was the first step for Burfict to repair his image during the opening of the Bengals' rookie mini-camp and he still feels like he has a lot to prove, according to Joe Reedy of Cincinnati.com and the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Burfict is the first to admit that his performance during the combine and his pro day was not his best, but he is also eager to get a fresh start with the Bengals.
"The combine wasn’t too good for me. To finally be in a defense and know where I’m playing is just wonderful and blessed," Burfict said.
Even though mini-camps are not the most exciting events in the NFL off-season, they are the most important because it is the first chance for many of the rookies to get a working knowledge of the team's schemes and go through the playbook on the field rather than in a classroom. And, according to Burfict himself, it was a pretty nominal first practice:
"It was pretty good. We had a good start, not a lot of mess-ups. A lot of people were locked in. It was just great flying around to the ball. Getting to learn that defense is awesome to me."
It is promising to hear that Burfict is eager to learn the defense and excited about this opportunity because it reflects his mindset and attitude. Reedy reported that the Bengals have Burfict at MLB and that he will be staying there until OTA's start on May 22nd, and he also reports that Burfict arrived in Cincinnati 15 pounds lighter than he was during the combine and now weighs 248 lbs. If we can take anything from this, it shows the team and the fans that he is taking this opportunity very seriously and is not taking it for granted. This is significant for the future of the team because if Rey Maualuga is suspended for his off-season actions (which we speculate that he will, though nothing definitive has yet been announced), the Bengals will be in need of a MLB and Burfict could end up being the starter on Monday Night Football at Baltimore.
Marvin Lewis is confident in Burfict's abilities but, as he states, he still has a long way to go.
"He’s a better conditioned athlete now than he was at the combine and at ASU in March . If he continues to go down that path, he seems bright enough to learn. He seems willing to want change this image people have of him," Lewis said. "He can be a good football player. Learn to bend his knees, play behind his pads, strike people within the whistles and life is good."
Burfict can be an animal at the second level and if Maualuga continues to play like he did last year, and Burfict continues to improve and assert himself as a force in the linebacking corps, he could end up competing for the starting spot with Maualuga once he returns from an inevitable suspension. Of course, these are a lot of "if's", and these don't even take into account the presence of Dontay Moch and Roddrick Muckelroy on the roster, but Burfict definitely sounds like he has the right attitude coming into mini-camp.
"Not being picked, going undrafted I have a big chip on my shoulder and I’m ready to hit somebody."