On Monday, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned to team activities today on a roster exemption after serving his three-game suspension.
Burfict, now in his fifth year in the NFL, is eligible to play this Thursday vs the Dolphins if the team makes a move to add him to the 53-player roster. The team has three days to decide if they’ll do so before needing to release a player to make room for Burfict.
“You’re adding a good player back in, so that’s a good thing. It’ll add depth to the linebacker area,” head coach Marvin Lewis said of Burfict’s return. “Obviously some of the guys who have been playing will have a little bit of change in play time as we move forward the next couple weeks.”
This isn't the first time that Burfict came into the regular season with some sort of health issue or suspension causing him to miss time. A knee injury suffered midway through the 2014 season, along with concussions, limited Burfict to just five games that season. Subsequent surgery kept him sidelined for much of the 2015 offseason; he would go on to open the year on the PUP list and miss six games to start the season while recovering.
But once he returned, Burfict went on to register 74 tackles, five pass deflections and two interceptions while helping Cincinnati notch 12 wins and an AFC North crown. In his first game back in 2015, a Week 8 matchup in Pittsburgh, Burfict played 36 snaps, or 48 percent of all defensive snaps.
“I think his rare ability is as much mental as it is physical,” Lewis said of Burfict. “I think he understands this defense at a very high level. He understands where guys fit. That’s important. As for coming back, he needs to focus on himself, and his opportunities and be right for himself right away.”
Multiple safety violations led to Burfict being suspended for the first three games of 2016. During that time, Burfict was barred from the team for the first three weeks of the regular season.
He also missed a lot of offseason workouts and practice, and opened training camp on the Non-Football Injury list. But Burfict returned to get a good amount of work in before the regular season opened and he was barred from any team activities.
While this is the first time Burfict is able to practice with his team in almost a month, he’s used to coming off the sideline to make an impact right away.
When Burfict returned off the PUP list in Week 8 last year against the Steelers, it was after just a few practices that week that he made a big impact in that win, recording five tackles. While most players need some time to get back to NFL speed after an injury or an offseason, Burfict didn't appear to need that as he made back-to-back tackles on the first two defensive plays of that Week 8 contest.
The Bengals hope he’ll make a similar impact this week against the Dolphins. They’ll need it to help end the two-game losing streak they’re currently on.
When asked today in the locker room if he plans to change the way he’s playing now that he’s back from his suspension, Burfict’s response was, "Why would I change anything?"