One of the biggest storylines for the Bengals this offseason and into the 2016 season will be Vontaze Burfict's physical style of play.
A three-game suspension is how Burfict will start off the 2016 season, but after all of the issues he's had to this point, you have to wonder if this is the end of his problems or merely a band-aid. The Pro Bowl linebacker is a star who this Bengals defense relies heavily on, despite the penalties and questionable plays he's too often in the news for.
Now, for the first time in his pro career, Burfict is publicly admitting he needs to change his ways. During an interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson, Burfict said his playing style needs to change, and he cited the head-shot on Antonio Brown during the Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh as an example.
"Like I told coach [Marvin Lewis], I wish I could take that play back because I probably would've hit him low," Burfict said in his first public comments about the incident. "I don't like hitting low, but I have to change because it's getting flags because I hit him high or hit him in the helmet, and it's so hard to determine where to hit the offender because they're gonna tuck their body, and you have to pretty much tuck with them."
That hit led to a 15-yard personal foul penalty that put the Steelers in range for a game-winning field goal.
"I tried to pull up at the last second, but it was obviously too late -- it's a bang-bang play," Burfict said.
It's something Burfict is not going to forget anytime soon, but it is something he can use to drive him toward a safer and legal playing style.
"I play hard. Sometimes it gets me in trouble," Burfict said. "My style of play is aggressive, and [the game has] changed, and I have to change with it, and that play right there, I think if I wasn't number 55, I wouldn't have got flagged."
This is the first time in his NFL career that Burfict is being this public and adamant about needing to change his playing style. It's a big and necessary step toward cleaning up his game and reputation across the league, which took a big hit this past season before his three-game suspension further damaged it.
But that punishment doesn't have to be a bad thing. It can be something Burfict looks back on when his career is over and says that's the turning point that helped him become a great player with a clean reputation instead of a great player who some label as dirty.
It's good on Burfict for admitting the changes need to be made. That's a big step toward making it happen and becoming the best linebacker he can in today's 'safer' NFL.