His coaches love his passion, but they hope Vontaze Burfict tempers it in the coming weeks.
For the first time in the Green-Dalton Era, the Bengals are in the glare of the NFL spotlight not because of playoff runs and home winning streaks. With word coming down Wednesday that the NFL has fined WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict $25,000 for ankle twisting Panthers on two different occasions in Sunday's 37-37 tie at Paul Brown Stadium, their preparation for this Sunday's game in Indianapolis (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) has some extra attention.
Burfict wasn't available to discuss the fine and head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wouldn't comment on it.
"I don't coach ankle twisting, so I don't know," Guenther said after Wednesday's practice.
But both are urging one of their defensive captains to reign in his fiery passion that has marked his meteoric rise from undrafted project to Pro Bowl and last year's leading tackler in the NFL.
"His greatest asset is his edge and it's infectious to the other guys. But he can't cross the line and being overboard where you're not playing within the rules," Guenther said. "He's got to understand that. There's a certain set of rules. Everybody is looking at him. It's on the tape, it's on the field, and you can't cross that line. You have to play within the rules. He plays hard. I'm never going to take that away from him. That's who he is. But he's got to watch some of the things he's doing because he's on the list."
He's on a list in which he's been hit with nearly $80,000 in fines since the 2013 season. Lewis, the one who took the gamble on him coming out of Arizona State in 2012, has also been telling him he has to play within the rules. But Lewis indicated it is Burfict's same passion and burning competitiveness that also caused him to struggle against the Panthers on Sunday as the defense gave up 431 yards.
Lewis said Burfict called him Sunday night while both were looking at tape that saw Carolina march down the field at the end of regulation and in overtime to tie the game and said both were "disgusted,' at how they played.
"We need him to play better than he played. He'll play better if he plays more under control and plays more within the schematics of the defense, and more in his responsibility," Lewis said. "If he takes care of that, then we're going to play better on defense.
"That's the one thing as a young player that he really was able to do right away. He just played within his own responsibility and made a tremendous amount of plays. Our defense is designed for that guy to make plays, and we need him to make plays within his responsibility, and if he does, we'll be in pretty good shape. We let a ball go across the field the other day (tight end Greg Olsen's 18-yard throwback TD) that we can't have happen. He was disappointed in himself, because there were plays he didn't make that we're used to him making, because he's that type of player."
But there is a fine line (pardon the pun), of course, between being out of control and being aggressive. At least one of Burfict's teammates doesn't want to see him change his style.
"He gets guys going and he plays with emotion and he plays with his heart, I love it," said cornerback Adam Jones. "Of course, the one hit on Cam (Newton), he's got to cut that one out. If you look at the film, he was in play, but we can't hit the quarterback, we know the rules. Besides that, I wouldn't change one thing we were doing.
"Vontaze plays with great emotion. I don't think he should have been fined $25,000. Like I've said before, this league is all about what you guys put out there in the media," Jones said. "So when those guys go talking about this and that, they have to respond. It is what it is. I think Vontaze will take that one on the chin and it can't change the way he plays. We were talking about the penalties — I understand that — but you need to play aggressive and stay aggressive."
Jones felt the ankle twisting sounded like sour grapes.
"I get my ankles twisted all the time in the pile when I'm running back punts," Jones said. "You don't hear me crying."
Jones, and it sounded like Lewis, thought that Burfict shouldn't have been called for hitting a defenseless receiver in the head when both Jones and Burfict converged on Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
"He didn't hit him in his head with that one, he hit my arm, I know because it was hurting," Jones said. "That's a bad call. You can't tell the guy not to play the way he plays. If you look back at the film, that's a clean hit. You give and take and you have to take the punches. I think Vontaze will be all right…I don't think he was defenseless. It doesn't matter, you can still hit him with your shoulder pads. He didn't hit him in his head, so that's a bad call."
But that's the list Guenther is talking about. The everyone-is-watching-everything list.
"It's like Marvin says," Guenther said. "This isn't WWF. It's professional football. He's got to tone it down, play within himself, and try to garner the fire that he has and he's got to control it."