The Bengals likely won't see the return of linebacker Vontaze Burfict this week when they take on the Bears in their third preseason game.
Burfict, who still is recovering from offseason microfracture surgery, has yet to practice in training camp or the preseason as he remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list. The hope originally this offseason was that Burfict would be far along enough in his rehab to play in Cincinnati's third preseason game against the Bears, but that game is now fast approaching this week and Burfict still has yet to get in a single practice.
As Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson writes, Burfict is dying to get back on the practice field, but the Bengals are going with the safer approach and keeping him on PUP in case he needs to open the year on it.
But Guenther wouldn’t rule out Burfict being ready for the Sept. 13 opener in Oakland, about eight months after microfracture knee surgery, and had to talk him off the practice field Wednesday.
All indications are the Bengals are going with a conservative approach and are keeping their options open of placing him on PUP. Burfict isn’t eligible for PUP if he practices even once in the preseason. If he does practice and isn’t ready, the Bengals would have to carry him on the final 53-man roster until he is available.
Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham also said on the Lance Mcalister show there's no way Burfict is playing in the first six games this year.
If Burfict even gets one practice in, he won't be eligible for PUP and will count as a player on the Bengals' 53-man roster. That could cost a guy like Marquis Flowers, Nico Johnson or Chris Carter their spot on the roster. While Burfict is clearly better than those guys, if he isn't able to play in the first 3-4 games this year, keeping him on PUP and giving him those extra two games to rehab would probably be the smarter option.
Opening the year on PUP makes Burfict ineligible for the first six games, and when he does come back, one of those aforementioned guys could be cut to make room for him. In the meantime, those players could help make up for the snaps lost while Burfict is out in hopes he can step right in and help the team when he comes back in October.
Still, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther remains optimistic about Burfict playing in Week 1 at Oakland.
"He’s progressing fast. He’s working his butt off," Guenther said after Wednesday’s practice. "I saw him over there in individuals and he wanted to hop in there (in team). I told him ‘No, No.’ There’s a certain protocol we have to follow. It’s a step-by-step process and once he passes the protocol and the trainers say we can ease him in there, we’ll welcome him with open arms."
At this point, it will be a minor miracle if Burfict plays in Week 1, but don't count him out entirely. He's battled a lot of long odds to make it this far in his NFL career, though coming back from this procedure may be his biggest challenge yet.