New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is breaking out a new journal this training camp.
If quarterback Andy Dalton is the face of the offense, then that must make Pro Bowl WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict the face of the Bengals defense at the tender age of 23. He has to be since new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is using him as an example of getting into the playbook.
When Guenther calls that first meeting of training camp Wednesday night before Thursday's first practice at 3 p.m. at Paul Brown Stadium, he's got Burfict in mind.
"He understands the whole picture better than anybody," Guenther said. "Like I'm teaching the whole defense now. I'm teaching the outside linebackers to know what the safeties are doing, the corners to know what the linebackers are doing. That's how I taught the linebacker room and that's how I'm installing the defense."
Guenther, promoted from linebackers coach in wake of Mike Zimmer's departure, can see it now. He won't unveil the first coverage Wednesday night in the meeting room. A player will.
"Install this right here,' Guenther said. "Every day a player is going to come down and get on the board and say, 'What if this happens? What if that happens?' And go through it. I'm trying to bring everybody up to the level that Vontaze understands it."
But Guenther needs that face to get a little longer in the tooth.
"Early in his career he would get mad. He's so competitive he would get mad at guys," Guenther said. " I said, 'Look you can't do that because now that's going to set him off which is going to set a fire.' I really worked on his leadership abilities and how to go about it in different ways. It's a long season and you can't use the same way every time. Just like I can't. You've got to find different ways to motivate guys as the season goes. I'm really working through that with him and he's doing a good job. He's a natural leader anyways. "
He admits it is "pretty close,' when talking about how this defense is built around Burfict.
"One of the things I always read about in the paper is we've got to put him in at middle linebacker. It's not like that anymore in the NFL. He plays middle linebacker in our sub packages. He plays outside linebacker in our base. He came in as a middle linebacker in college but we moved him to WILL because we had an injury there. Why move him if he's doing well there?" Guenther asked. "He's leading the league in tackles, so why move him to a different spot?...I will put a lot on him on game day to make checks in and out. We play pretty much every good quarterback in the league this year. They're going to be smart enough to see some of the looks so I'm going to give Vontaze a little leeway to get us in and out of some defenses as he knows he should."
Leadership is the buzz word on the defensive side of the ball. The Type A Zimmer is now the Vikings head coach after being the Bengals' most successful defensive coordinator in history with four top 10 finishes in his six years. But Guenther has some in your-face aggressiveness, too, courtesy of a Philly upbringing and was Zimmer's eyes and ears in the press box during that run, coaching linebackers and secondary at various junctures, as well as serving as his third-down specialist.
"Paul has been in that room and been a big part of that. He knows we've had a great offseason of football so far. It's been unemotional that way," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "We haven't had the highs and lows of it, which is good. Paul has been very good at that and that's important. Mike's not here anymore. He's gone on. He's got his own trials to work with now.
"It's good when you elevate from within. We know the plusses and minuses where we've been as a defensive team. Paul's been there from day one. He understands that. He coached with me in 2002 in Washington and came over here in 2004 with us. I'm excited for his opportunity. He's going to have to grow and develop as a play caller, that's something he hasn't done. But I like where we are right now. They will work their tails off and they'll win games and play hard for Paul. More importantly, you want to develop the feeling they're playing hard for each other."
So, in that sense, Guenther and Burfict have maybe a little more in common besides coach and linebacker as they both look to make major strides in their careers.
"The only difference in my job now is that I'm calling the defenses on Sundays and I've got to coach all the positions. I know the schemes, I know the players. I've added to the scheme," Guenther said. " But it's like I've said in the past, being up in the box with Zim, 95 percent of the calls he made, I made them two seconds before him. It's all about situations in the game and matchups. I've kept a journal through the six years of stuff I would add. I would do this a little differently, I'd do that a little differently. I did it through the spring."
But if he had to dedicate his journal, it might be to an offensive guy, Steve Spurrier, his head coach in Washington, because he's pretty much kept a football diary his entire career.
"That's really where I learned how to pressure the passer. I coached two years in Washington on offense with Coach Spurrier and I saw teams where his passing game was quite good, but teams were trying to blitz him all the time," Guenther said. "So that's what I've learned a lot of the protection schemes and those kind of things."
It's not like Guenther is going to be blitzing the kitchen sink. But the journals show ways to find that weak link in pass protection.
"Different fronts, different ways of how I can get guys matched up on maybe the worst offensive lineman on the team. Those types of things," Guenther said. "Just simple little things that can make us better."
Guenther and Burfict are about to embark on one long, crazy ride. Guenther inherits a top 5 defense. Burfict is seeking back-to-back Pro Bowls. But both are hurting from that first-round playoff loss to San Diego.
"We finished third in defense last year in the NFL, and it got us one and out again. So my thing is that we finished 10th in the league on defense and we get in the Super Bowl, then how do you define success?" Guenther asked. "So my thing is, we've got to win as a team, whether it be stopping the run in a playoff game or not turning the ball over or whatever it may be. Define success how? Because we finished third in the league in defense? Well, we didn't win a playoff game. So to me there's a fine line there."
He'll be walking it with No. 55.