People can think what they want about Vontaze Burfict, but at the very core he is the emotional fuse for the Bengals as well as one of the most talented linebackers in the NFL. It says a lot that his leadership is listed before his talent.
Burfict started training camp on the NFI list, which meant he had to pass a physical in order to join his team. That is precisely what he did on Monday as the team activated him to the roster and he quickly acclimated to practice.
burfict takes his spot at WILL in first snap in team drills. guess who knifes his way to the ball pic.twitter.com/89iX0bliQl— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) August 6, 2018
After his first day of practice, it was one of the first times we could get a sense of his impressions of the 2018 Bengals’ defense and scheme. One of the biggest takeaways is that while much has changed with Teryl Austin taking over the defense, a lot has also stayed the same.
“It’s similar but different. Different terminology... different techniques we’re using that I think will benefit us in the long run,” Burfict told reporters after practice. “Little things that coach is harping us on even on an incompletion ball the defender has to run to it. So it is just keeping us aware [and] making us ball hungry.”
That has been a very common trend among Bengals’ defenders this offseason. Austin is bring a more turnover-centric approach to the defense, and it was proven to be successful from his time in Detroit as the Lions defensive coordinator. Really anything that helps the Bengals create more turnovers after being second to last in the league in that category would be huge. The other big thing Burfict noticed is the talent around him at the linebacker position.
“This is probably the best group that I’ve been around. From the vet to the rookie everyone is paying attention... We’re all helping each other and we’re all making sure everyone understands [what they are doing],” Burfict said. “We’re all in it as a unit, and [we] all love each other.”
The biggest addition to the linebacker group this offseason was Preston Brown from the Bills becoming the middle linebacker after the Kevin Minter experiment didn’t go as planned. Still just getting everyone back healthy and 100 percent is a big deal with this unit. Nick Vigil was trying to play through some injuries before he was put on injured reserve last year, so having him back and healthy should help. Also young guys like Jordan Evans and Hardy Nickerson Jr. getting more playing time than they were expected to get clearly gave them some valuable experience.
The elephant in the room seems to be how the Bengals will handle Burfict as far as the preseason is concerned. That plan got a little clearer when Marvin Lewis confirmed that Burfict won’t be playing during the Bengals’ first preseason game on Thursday.
It does seem like Burfict has a desire to get out there at some point during the preseason though before his four game suspension begins in Week 1 and he has to leave the team.
“It is important, just to be out there with my teammates, but even when I’m not out there I’m going to be on the sideline being a coach for some of the young guys,” Burfict said. “It is important for me to play, but I’m pretty sure the Bengals and [Mike Brown] will make sure I’m ready to go before I get out there and not hurt anything.
The preseason is going to be more important for Burfict than in past years because of the slight changes on defense, but just because he won’t be out there for the first preseason game doesn’t mean we won’t see him at some point. It is also important for Burfict to adjust to the NFL’s new helmet rules.
The Bengals are stuck in a complicated situation because of Burfict’s four game suspension. They want their star linebacker ready for the season, but they also want whoever is replacing him for four weeks — likely Evans — to be ready as well. It will be interesting to see how the Bengals handle that balance and when Burfict will make his preseason debut.