Aside from fringe roster players who could be cut before the season starts, most Bengals players are looking forward to the start of the regular season, when the games start to count. Most veteran starters won’t need to show the coaches much in the preseason to prove they belong on the roster, much less the mock game that occurred on Saturday in which Bengals players suit up and play against their own teammates to simulate various real-game situations.
Then again, most starters aren’t dealing with the circumstances that Vontaze Burfict is dealing with. Due to his actions in various games last year, including the Bengals’ Wild Card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers back in January, Burfict is suspended for the first three games of the regular season. On top of that, he injured his foot prior to camp and didn’t get a chance to return to practice until last Thursday. In response, Marvin Lewis has claimed that he won’t play in the preseason to protect one of the Bengals’ strongest assets. Therefore, getting the opportunity to play in the mock game at training camp was a big deal for him.
“We treated it like a game, going through the game schedule and it felt good,” Burfict said in an article on Cincinnati.com. “To go out there and compete against our own teammates in a different level, different mindset, keeping the score, stuff like that. It gets our twos better to go against the ones. It was good to go out there and compete with all of the running backs, seeing some of the rookies. Just to go out there and be a leader and compete.”
There is an undeniable hunger for success deep within Burfict that is evident in his perspective on the one game-like opportunity he will have before Week 4 of the regular season when the Bengals host the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had many opportunities to practice so far this offseason due to opening training camp on the Non-Football Injury list. When he finally returned on Thursday, his hunger showed.
That hunger is exactly what made him rise from the ranks of an undrafted college free agent signing to one of the Bengals’ most productive stars on defense. His mindset and work ethic have impressed a lot of people, including Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
“He’s getting an opportunity to play himself into better conditioning than he started, which he’s done a nice job of,” Lewis said. “I can’t fault him for that. He’s worked hard. He’s here every night late; he’s here every morning early. And he’s working hard at all the other aspects of it.”
That said, training camp and the preseason ultimately do not matter when it comes to the final standings in the regular season and postseason. Therefore, it’s understandable that the head coach would want to ease Burfict back into playing when he showed up to camp with a foot injury.
“He’s in a good place right now and I’ve got to temper how much I try and pull him back and pull him out,” Lewis said. “Because he is doing what he’s supposed to do. He uplifts the other guys mentally in everything they’re doing. That’s a good thing.”
Sitting around and not practicing with his teammates was hard for Burfict. But, even though he was itching to get back, he knows that Lewis was just looking out for his and the team’s best interests.
“He’s the head coach and I gotta stick to the schedule, but sometimes it’s kind of hard because I’m competitive and I want to do every rep just to get better,” Burfict said. “We have great other linebackers that can do the same thing as me, but I just feel like I bring a different level of competitiveness to the defense that makes everybody else step up.”
Ultimately, no player wants to be hampered by an injury in training camp before having to face a three game suspension at the beginning of the regular season. But, it’s the hand that Burfict was dealt. He seems to be approaching it with the right attitude.
“It’s something I have to deal with,” Burfict said. “So when it’s my turn to get called after week three, I’m taking 100 percent of the snaps.”