In one respect, the Raiders have a brand new middle linebacker. In another respect, Vontaze Burfict is far from new to this team. He’s been part of this defense for seven years. It was just for another franchise.
That experience makes him the most valuable player on this Raiders defense. The straw that stirs the drink” as Jon Gruden referred to him recently.
It’s unfortunate Burfict’s reputation as a dirty player overshadows any qualities he seems to possess as a football player. When he was signed this offseason, it was not looked upon favorably by most due to the penchant for getting suspended. After all, the best ability is reliability and Burfict hasn’t seen a full 16 games since 2013. The most games he’s played in a season since then is 11.
But there’s something to be said for a player who despite all of that still returned every year to start every game in which he played. So, while it’s his not-so-smart actions in the heat of battle that earn him suspensions and a bad reputation, his intelligence earns him a starting job and gets overlooked.
“Vontaze; people don’t really speak about his football intelligence,” said fellow linebacker Brandon Marshall. “He has to be one of the smartest football players I’ve played with. He’s been in this defense his whole career and he knows the ins and outs. I come and ask him questions, I talk with him. He’s played the WILL linebacker position, so I lean on him a lot right now. In this learning phase that I’m in it’s great to have a veteran guy like him to lean on.”
Marshall isn’t the only one who taps Burfict’s extensive knowledge of Defensive Coordianator Paul Guenther’s defense.
“They want to watch film with me.” said Burfict. “Sit down one-on-one like some of the corners watch film with me one on one, see how I watch film because obviously pre-snap I’m calling plays out and they’re thinking like ‘How the hell does he know that play is coming?’ Just route concepts, tendencies.”
Middle linebacker is a position the Raiders haven’t seemed to be able to find a long term solution for a long time. From the standpoint of Burfict’s football IQ and rapport with Paul Guenther, he is an ideal choice. But his dirty play will wear on Gruden quickly should it cost him games. So, it’s of the utmost importance that Burfict translate his smarts pre-snap with between the whistles.
“Just got to be a leader, man,” said Burfict. “Make sure I’m doing everything right, all the little things right because obviously people are looking up to me. And encouraging others just like they encourage me. Just making sure I’m doing everything right, making sure they uinderstand the play calls, putting the guys in the right position. Obviously because I’m a linebacker I can see the formation that the offense is in and putting my Dline in the right gaps before the play. Just being the quarterback of the defense.”
And just like the quarterback of the offense, how he carries himself is crucial. The Raiders are clearly counting on him a great deal this season. A situation that could cost them or pay off handsomely.