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Notes: Burfict's second wind; Down Under; Pike continues battle; Half of draft class in fold

Posted May 11, 2012


Vontaze Burfict

Updated: 8:20 p.m.

Finally, after months of controversy and blown chances, Vontaze Burfict got his second wind Friday during the first day of Bengals minicamp and escaped to the field.

"He runs around well. He's a good, smart kid. I was impressed with him," linebackers coach Paul Guenther said after the day's second practice. "I can't tell you what they taught him in college. But in a day here, he picked it up ... ."

That's all Burfict wants to hear. A clean slate. A new shot. A second wind. There he was, as Guenther says, making all the calls, setting all the fronts, getting on with what he thinks he can do.

"Talking about what happened to me at Arizona State isn't going to help the Bengals get even better," Burfict said when asked about his controversial college career that included 16 personal fouls.

And why not? The problems steamrolled for a 21-year-old. They ranged from indifferent production last year to a poor combine to bad conditioning to some ill-chosen quotes and it all added up to one of the most sought-after high school players in the nation three years ago not getting drafted.

"It's about time; I'm ready to put some pads on," he said. "The combine wasn't too good for me. To finally be in a defense and know where I'm playing is just wonderful and blessed.

"Not being picked, going undrafted, I have a big chip on my shoulder and I'm ready to hit somebody."

But not after the whistle. Not during a shorts and helmet practice.

"You've got to be disciplined today," he said. "You have chances to hit somebody but you just let up. It just comes with practice."

It's one of the first steps that began when Burfict met with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis after his disastrous campus workout at Arizona State back in March. Lewis convinced Burfict he had to run the 40-yard dash, had to show NFL head coaches and general managers he was willing to work.

One of the reasons Lewis agreed to sign him in the first hour after the draft was because Burfict, Lewis says, took the time to find his number and called him as well as wrote him a letter.

"I wrote a letter to pretty much all the GMs and coaches throughout the whole process," Burfict said. "I guess he read my letter and he responded back to me and I gave him my number and my agent's number and he contacted my agent and that's how it happened."

Burfict's agent, Chuck Price, an agent since 2003, said the way Lewis handled talking to his client gave him one of the best feelings he's ever had in the business.

"He talked to 'Tez. He made an effort," Price said. "It's the closest thing I've seen to what happens in high school with coaches and kids. What Marvin did is earn his trust."

The two bonded even more last week, when Lewis was in Arizona for his daughter's wedding and they spent two hours going over the basics.

"We went for lunch and he pretty much showed me the ins and outs and I went home and studied it, and here I am today," Burfict said.

Lewis says he seems to have struck a chord with him. Burfict agrees.

"I don't know how to explain it. There is a connection between me and him," he said.

Maybe it's because Burfict is a 6-3, 250-pound linebacker bubbling with explosion and strength and needing it harnessed with fundamentals. And here is Lewis, the former Steelers linebackers coach who went on to develop Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis in Baltimore.

"I've watched Marvin Lewis in the past and what he does with his linebackers is a great thing," Burfict said. "I just thought if I could contact the coaches that did great things with the linebackers, I could be great, too."

Burfict admitted to a reporter before the draft that he had smoked marijuana but that he has stopped. There were other high-profile stories and quotes that had him saying things that were probably best left unsaid.

The lesson seems to have been learned. If Burfict plays middle linebacker like he handled his first NFL media opportunity he'll be OK. As befitting his role as the most talked-about player on the Bengals rookie minicamp roster, Burfict talked for eight minutes to all comers after the first practice. Politely and guardedly.

Asked about the biggest misconception of his image, he didn't blink.

"I heard a lot about my off-the-field issues and I haven't really had off-the-field issues," Burfict said. "I've never been in trouble with the law or anything like that. I think that's the big picture that's missed."

He says this year changed him: "I'm really different. I'm more mature. I've grown up as a man. I'm just taking care of my responsibilities."

Asked if heard that question a lot during the draft process he said, "No, that's the first time, sir."

Price admires how Burfict and his single mother have beaten the odds in getting a college scholarship off the mean streets of Corona, Calif., the place where one of his high school teammates was murdered. Price says Burfict's mother has managed to raise four solid children in the neighborhood on a meager income, his two younger sisters excelling academically.

"Now this is his chance and he knows it," Price said.

In the end it's going to be about football and not images. Football is why Burfict didn't get drafted. One theory behind his 16 personal fouls is he simply would arrive too late at a play because he couldn't diagnose it or get there in time. Lewis has already told him he has to bend at his knees and not his waist.

He seems to get it.

"Coach Guenther is a great coach; I love the guy," he said. "He's taught me a lot. Just bending knees. Just reading the play before it happens. We do a lot of film work and he pretty much got me into the playbook. Bending your knees against a 350-(pound) guy, you have to do that, or he'll blow you up."

Lewis has already said how impressed he is about Burfict's knowledge of the pass game, but while Burfict is comfortable in a 4-3 defense he knows defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme is different.

"The blitzes are complicated and very different from the way we ran them," Burfict said. "The way we set the front is a little different and the way we take on spills is a little different."

As he talked in front of his temporary steel locker that is standard issue for the rookies before training camp, Burfict said he felt good at what should be his weight of 250 pounds. The only problem was the new Paul Brown Stadium synthetic turf. The man who ran the slowest 50 of any backer at the NFL Scouting Combine back in February says he's in shape.

"It was just my feet," he said. "The cleats were starting to get hot in the turf."

Guenther called it "a good day." Burfict is not supposed to be good in space, but he liked Burfict's one-on-one stuff against the tight ends and backs.

"He's calling all the defenses, he's setting all the fronts and blitzes and the coverages," Guenther said. "He's a big physical kid. Bright. Eager to learn. Looking to make the most of the opportunity.

"He's picking up the defenses. Really, all the linebackers today had less error than some of our veteran players on the first day of training camp."

Burfict had a smile after the eight minutes were up.

He's enjoying the second wind.

SLANTS AND SCREENS

» On Friday evening the Bengals signed fourth-round pick Orson Charles, the tight end from Georgia, which means half of their 10-man draft class is in the fold. Second-rounder Devon Still, the defenisve tackle from Penn State, and fifth-rounder Marvin Jones, the wide receiver from California, signed their deals Friday after the first practice. The Bengals are still working on both first-rounders, third-rounder Brandon Thompson and sixth-rounder Daniel "Boom" Herron.

» The Bengals added a tryout player for Friday's second practice and then signed UCLA safety Tony Dye after the workout.

» First-round draft pick Dre Kirkpatrick, the cornerback from Alabama, spent his first practice getting acclimated to not playing man-to-man all the time and playing off in zone coverage and admitted he's feeling his way around.

"I'm a man guy. I'm used to playing up in people's faces," he said. "I worked on that in the offseason, knowing I was going to be asked to do more of that in the NFL."

He got a dose of some big-time SEC speed in the afternoon from an undrafted Big East player when Connecticut's Kashif Moore ran by him on a long ball... 

Kirkpatrick spent his first weekend as a pro last week in Las Vegas attending the Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto fight. He says he's a fan of both Floyd and boxing, but he may have to play a few games to get a better ticket. He said he didn't have ringside seats "but really enjoyed it."

» Five-year Australian Rules Football vet Chris Bryan is on a tryout, but it's not his first stop at Paul Brown Stadium. During his five-game stint for the Buccaneers in 2010 he punted for Tampa Bay in its 24-21 win. Earlier that year he spent the entire training camp with Green Bay before getting cut. He spent the 2011 camp with the Jets before getting lopped. At 30 he's like a grandfather in this camp, but "I'm new to the game," he said. "These guys have been playing the game a lot longer than I have."

He punted against Bengals incumbent Kevin Huber, so he knows the challenge.

"I looked at his numbers last year and he's been getting better and better," Bryan said. "I'm just trying to kick the ball nice and consistent every time."

» A lot of people for a pulling for former University of Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike in his tryout this weekend. The Cincy native from nearby Reading who was a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2010 is trying to come back from two-time elbow surgery for nerve damage.

When the first one didn't take, Pike had another procedure eight weeks ago. The Bengals have been trying to get him to PBS to try him out after mulling signing him when he got cut in last year's training camp.

He sounded upbeat after Friday's first practice, what he called his biggest workload since last year's training camp in Carolina. He was more anxious to see how he threw in Friday's second session to see if the elbow could bounce back. With no ice or harness between practices, he looked relaxed.

Yet he appeared to tire in the second practice and floated some of his long balls. Although there was some buzz the Bengals may rest him Saturday, Pike appears ready to go out there again with undrafted Colorado rookie Tyler Hansen

Asked if Pike was still working through things with his elbow after the second practice, Lewis said, "He's been cleared and recovered. He's out here trying to give it a go and see what he can do." 

Pike thought it was OK after the first practice.

"It's holding up well," he said. "The strength is almost 100 percent back. The accuracy feels fine. With the rehab process and the surgery you occasionally get some numbness and it might affect your spiral. But that's healing as I go. You're getting your feel back day by day."

Pike says he grew up wearing the full No. 7 Boomer Esiason uniform ("old school"), so for a Cincy QB it meant a lot to pull on a Bengals orange jersey No. 5.

"You think about a lot of people," Pike said. "I came down when Carson (Palmer) was here and playing the games. Jon Kitna. Back to Jeff Blake. All these guys. It's something special walking through that tunnel."

 » Of the tryout players, Lewis said Kansas State outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur caught his eye and thought the defensive ends making the transition to backer handled it pretty well.

» As for the recent major injuries suffered by division rivals Cleveland and Baltimore, Lewis says there's not much the Bengals can do to react: "It's part of the game. That's why you try to have the deepest team you can get."

 

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