Vontaze Burfict, the starting middle linebacker on Team Rice in Sunday's Pro Bowl (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) is all business out there in Hawaii. He's picking the brains of fellow linebackers like Luke Kuechly and Paul Posluszny and after saying farewell to Mike Zimmer, the former Bengals defensive coordinator has presented Burfict with a new goal.
"Zim was telling me if I keep doing the things I have to do and keep my head on straight and stay out of trouble, there's no reason I shouldn't be in Canton," Burfict said from Over The Water this week. "That's going to be another goal for my career. You always want to be the greatest player that you can be."
Burfict, the undrafted one, started his Hall of Fame push by getting drafted from a guy already in Canton. Jerry Rice tapped Burfict No. 18 in the first-ever Pro Bowl draft this week after another Hall of Famer, Deion Sanders, picked teammate A.J. Green at No. 9. Burfict thanked Rice for the gesture and then let Sanders running back Jamaal Charles know he was going to be ready in a rather un-Pro Bowlish challenge.
But then, Burfict is a serious dude and you can tell from his guest list, minus his mother because she's dealing with an illness in the family back in California. Along with his girlfriend, he invited a workout partner from California, Bengals linebackers coach Paul Guenther and wife Patrice, and teammate Rey Maualuga, the Bengals middle linebacker that helped Burfict amass the most tackles in the NFL this season.
"Paul's been with me ever since I've been a Bengal. I probably wouldn't be here without him and Marvin (Lewis). They made me the linebacker I am today," Burfict said. "He's been here before and he can show me around a little bit and he can have a little vacation, too."
Guenther went to Hawaii on Pro Bowl week on a golf junket a few years ago, but now he's the Bengals defensive coordinator and that delights Burfict.
"It's bad losing Zim because he's a great coach and I got along with him very well," Burfict said. "It's awesome Coach G got the job. He knows the defense as much as Zim and they have good qualities from each other. My job is to be better than last year and help him out. There's no setback. We can keep it going. I don't know if it's the same defense or how we're going to go. But everyone gets along well with Coach G and it should be good."
Guenther is serious, too. Enough that he plans to spend some R&R talking to Burfict about what he envisions for next season. He already wants Burfict to join him as a coach after his playing days, but he needs a little bit of both in '14.
"Tez knows me from coaching the linebackers and knowing what my expectations are and as the leader of the defense he can help me with that," Guenther said.
There's a bit of a Hawaiian in that concept. Guenther calls it "squeezing as much water out of the coconut that I can."
It doesn't sound like Burfict is on a vacation. Instead of hanging out with some of the receivers and running backs he's replicated on Madden, he's fallen in with other linebackers.
"You should see him with Kuechly; they're talking about chili," Guenther said.
The same year Burfict was undrafted, Kuechly, he of Cincinnati's St. Xavier High School, was the first linebacker taken at No. 9. He and Burfict have hit it off this week.
"It's great to get to know him; he's a really good dude," Burfict said. "They're the best linebackers around. See how they are around the game. What you can do to get better? You're thinking, 'what can you take from these guys in this room with me?' "
The plan is for the Guenthers to take out Tez and his girl to dinner Friday night. And Guenther is going to see if he can get Green to come along.
But expect a lot of shop talk.