INDIANAPOLIS - During a break in the scouting combine Friday, Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther offered an impassioned defense of linebacker Vontaze Burfict, as well as another job possibility.
"I've said it before. If I'm still coaching I'm going to hire him as a coach after he's done playing because he's way smarter than he gets credit for," Guenther said. "Everybody thinks he's a thug, that he doesn't understand. He's smart. Every Wednesday he comes into the meetings and gets it right away."
Commenting for the first time on Burfict's three-game suspension for his hit to the head on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the Wild Card Game, Guenther said Burfict was simply trying to make a play and that it wasn't a malicious hit.
"I think it's awful. The way he's perceived now is terrible," Guenther said. "I feel terrible for the kid. There are things after the play that he has to clean up . . . he has to clean up those things . . . He's got the tag now, but on the play we're talking about, that's what I don't get."
Guenther reiterated what he said in the aftermath of last month's game. He felt Burfict was the victim of a bang-bang play. He wasn''t surprised at the flag, but he was surprised at the suspension.
"He's on the back side. He's opening up. He sees the throw. When you're playing that fast, you don't know the ball is complete or incomplete," Guenther said. "He's trying to end the game. It's the last play of the game. When he opens up and the ball is right here, if he wanted to kill that guy, he really could have killed him. But he didn't. He doesn't know if the ball is in or out. He has to aim lower. I guess I have to start teaching it differently."
Also Friday, Guenther said:
-He wants to sign back as many of his free agents as he can, but he's comfortable with his depth. He said safety Shawn Williams has the ability to start with a lot of upside.
-He says he stood on the table in the last draft for TCU linebacker P.J. Dawson and says he has some play-making abilities that Burfict has. But, "He has to learn to be a pro."
-He indicated it's a make-or-break season for a pair of high picks at defensive end, Margus Hunt as he heads into his fourth year and Will Clarke, as he heads into his third year. He also said this draft has the most defensive players he's ever seen, so he's going to continue to look for "rushers and cover guys."
This gallery features photos of current Bengals players at past NFL Combines