Perhaps no player in the NFL is seen more as a dirty player than Vontaze Burfict. Ten time, by my count, has the former Bengals linebacker been either fined, suspended or both. Once for intentionally twisting the ankle of a player, another time for stomping on a player while they were on the turf, and other times for roughing players.
Those incidents have cost him a lot of money and cost his team his services for games. Though you wouldn’t ever expect Burfict to simply call himself a dirty player. The way he sees it, his playing style is just the nature of the position at which he plays.
“Naw, I’m not a dirty player,” said Burfict over conference call Tuesday. “I play a physical position, which is middle linebacker, that’s physical. And I can’t go in there playing patty cake. If I go out there playing patty cake, I’m going to be getting ran over. I got 300-plus-pound linemen coming at me trying to block me and if I play soft then I’m not doing my job. I could see if I played quarterback, or kicker, or punter, then you can be, I wouldn’t say soft, but you know what I’m saying. But I play a physical position to where I got to put my jock strap on right, put my shoes on right, put my cleats on right, and come out ready to play. Physical.”
The 28-year-old linebacker added that he doesn’t think he does more after the whistle than any other player or team, but that it’s just a matter if the official catches it “That’s football. It’s just whoever gets caught.”
Well, Burfict has been caught a lot.
One of the more egregious hits he has had in his career came against former AFC South rival and now teammate, Antonio Brown. He came across the middle and hit Brown’s helmet, knocking Brown unconscious.
Entering the same locker room as Antonio Brown would figure to make for an awkward moment, though Burfict seems to think there won’t be any issue.
“I mean we’re on the same team. It’s one goal,” Burfict said. “It’s all positive, man, I mean he’s a great player, I’m sure he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame one day. And honestly I’m going to approach him just like I do all my other teammates. Introduce myself. All that good stuff. There’s nothing negative over here, man.”
Burfict added “Honestly, we might be the closest friends on the team, you know what I mean? Just got to go along with it and I can’t wait to meet him.”
The extracurricular stuff aside, there is the matter of why the Raiders chose to sign him. He has been a productive linebacker when he’s been able to stay on the field. His suspensions are one reason for his lost time, injuries are another. Most notably his concussions, of which he’s had seven.
To that end, Burfict passed his physical and says he’s good to go, at least in the eyes of the Raiders who then signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal.
The real reason he is here is because of his familiarity with Defensive Coordinator, Paul Guenther. Burfict’s first two seasons, Guenther was his position coach. The second of which saw the undrafted linebacker go to the Pro Bowl with an astounding 177 combined tackles. After that Guenther was elevated to DC and had Burfict as the quarterback of his defense for four years. So, yeah, the two are quite familiar. As Burfict says, he knows Guenther’s defense “inside and out.”
“That’s what I’ve known since day one,” he continued. “I know what everybody on the defense is supposed to be doing. Lined up, yards, off the man type stuff. I know just little details in the defense. I think my knowledge can help everybody especially while I’m on the field wearing the mic. Somebody don’t know what they got to do, then obviously I’m going to realize if we’re supposed to have an end in the 9-technique or the 6-technique and they’re not in the right spot, I can obviously help them just because my visual and knowing how to fix that up.”
Being on a one-year deal means Guenther gets his guy, but the team is not ready to invest in him long term. Burfict will get his shot to not blow it with bad penalties and dirty play, Guenther will get his guy, and the team could still draft the long term answer and let him learn the ropes before being thrust into the lineup. Not a bad deal.