The Cincinnati Bengals jumped out to a 3-1 run through the first quarter of the 2018 season, and they did so without their defensive captain, middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The veteran was serving a four-game suspension, remarkably one that was for performance-enhancing substances rather than for directly injuring people.
But he is back now and ready to resume his duties, the first team on deck being the Miami Dolphins. He was activated to the 53-man roster recently in a corresponding move that placed tight end Tyler Eifert on injured reserve after suffering a season-ending injury in the team’s last game.
This is the third consecutive year during which Burfict has started a season on the suspended list, and he has played about 75 to 80 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in the previous iterations in his first game back, so there is no reason to suspect that he will not be an active participant in today’s game.
“When you get out there you want to be competitive”, he told the team’s website. “You don’t want to come out every play, but you want to come out sometimes and be fresh for the next play”. He noted that the team also has a couple of capable backups in Jordan Willis and Hardy Nickerson, Jr., which would enable him to get a breather if necessary.
What is different this time, however, is that the Steelers made a change at defensive coordinator. A significant one, in fact. When they lost Mike Zimmer, they replaced him from within with Paul Guenther. The change this time resulted in an outside hire, bringing in Teryl Austin, who has changed things more significantly.
Unsurprisingly, Burfict didn’t express any concern about that. “Football is football. The playbook is the playbook. Your man is your man”, he said. After all, he did spend the entire offseason getting familiar with Austin’s system. He has only been away for the past four weeks.
“It’s similar but very different on defense. Especially play calls that I would expect Paulie to call. T.A., it’s obviously two different minds. I just have to get used to his calling”, he admitted. “And understand what he’s calling for. That’s what I knew Paulie G. for. I knew why he was calling the plays and understanding what he’s expecting. So I just have to get used to T.A. and why he’s calling things and stuff like that. It’s going to happen, just give me a couple of games”.
Interestingly, he also apparently told reporters that he doesn’t want the defensive headset back from Nick Vigil, who has had the green dot for the team of late. “I just want to focus on playing football”, he said. “They’ve been playing more games than me, so they’re in a little bit more condition, so it’s better for them to do it rather than me”.