Tez, backers brace for rookie combo

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Karlos Dansby (56) has brought experience and versatility to the Bengals backers, according to Vontaze Burfict.

Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett solved the Great Tez Snaps Mystery Monday when he confirmed that Vontaze Burfict played 37 of the defense's 45 snaps in his season debut last Thursday night.

There were varying numbers out there, such as 27 and 34. But whatever it was, it was more than any of his linebackers in a rotation he used Karlos Dansby and Vincent Rey primarily on third down and Burfict, Dansby, and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga on pretty much the rest.

T

here is no mystery Sunday in Dallas (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) when Burfict and his guys take on NFL rushing leader Zeke Elliott and red-hot rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and his spotless interception streak.

"The offensive line is obviously the best on the team. I think they average about 305 up front," Burfict said before the Bengals went back on the field Monday.  "They're a great O line, and honestly I think any running back could run behind them. Just find the hole for Ezekiel and obviously hit it. But we're going to have a tough task ahead of us and we're just going to need all 11 guys at the ball.

"Zeke is a good back. He has a great O line," he said. "For us it's just stopping them and all 11 get to the ball."

Burfict is a big fan of Prescott as the Bengals try to up their record against rookie quarterbacks to 15-10 under head coach Marvin Lewis, according to Elias. Burfict, out with a knee injury, wasn't involved the last time it happened, a 30-0 Manziel handling in Cleveland in Johnny Manziel's first NFL start late in the 2014 season.

Manziel came a Stephen Jones closing argument away from ending up in Dallas in that 2014 draft, when he apparently talked father Jerry Jones out of it. But now everyone is so relieved and happy with Prescott, a fourth-rounder out of Mississippi State, that there are even whispers this is his team even though Tony Romo is due back at the end of the month.

And why not? Dallas wouldn't be Dallas without a little Who Shot J.R. drama going on as only Big D can do it. Prescott has thrown 131 passes without a pick, tied for the second longest skein to start a career. While he's got only three touchdown passes, he's completing nearly 68 percent of his passes and has the NFL's 13th best passer rating at 98.5

"Who? Who?" Burfict joked when asked about Prescott. "No, I'm just playing. He's a great quarterback. I was a fan of him in college. I watched a lot of their games in college. He was a great quarterback. He makes good decisions. But like I said we're going to have a tough task in front of us. We want to let him obviously stay in the pocket, not let him get out and obviously pat the ball a lot and make bad decisions back there."

Except for some soreness, Burfict said he felt good Monday. Because of then mini-bye, he gets three extra days to recover for the Cowboys.

"For me personally to get some practice under my belt for a game, it's going to be huge for me," Burfict said. "I get to get a look at what they do, get a chance to run through it, walk through it and stuff like that. I'm excited just to go out to practice today and be a leader."

He's got plenty of help at linebacker. When Burfict (46 NFL starts) lines up at WILL in Dallas with Dansby (175 starts) at SAM and Rey Maualuga (101) in the middle, that will be 322 starts at backer compared to the seven of Prescott and Elliott. With Vincent Rey coming off the bench with 28 career starts, Burfict thinks it may be the strongest backer corps since he arrived in 2012.

"You could say that. Karlos is a great leader, great veteran to have, especially next to me in the locker room," Burfict said. "He adds a lot to us. He can cover the tight end, he can blitz, he can tackle, all that good stuff.  I'm excited for what this year will bring us. We've just got to keep it rolling.

"We all have our great things that we do better than the others. It's great to have different packages that we go in as and keep us all fresh. Vinny came in on third down. Had to watch us on first and second down, come in on third down and make a great stop. That's great for us. We have good depth and hopefully we can keep it up like that the rest of the year."

How deep are they? Rey, who started the three games in place of Burfict, was called out for the starting lineup Thursday with Rey even though Burfict got the start in a very special moment for a few reasons.

"He held his ground and did a great job. Even now he's still doing a great job," Burfict said. "I think he had a couple pass deflections. We have a great linebacker corps and I'm happy we all got announced, me, Karlos and Rey and Vinny."

Since Burfict barely had a week of training camp and nothing before that because the Bengals merely walked through their practices in a short week, Haslett kept a close eye on Burfict's wind.

When he saw his tackling technique flag a few times late in the game, he pulled him for a snap or two so he could catch his breath on the way to five tackle, a pass defensed, and helping hold Miami to 148 yards in the final 54 minutes.

"He told me the shoulder pads were heavy," Haslett said of late in the game. "I forgot he never had them on. He was a little rusty at the end of the game. He got a little heavy-legged. It was good for him to get as many reps as he got so he can be ready for this week."

After watching the tape of Burfict play 36 of 75 snaps last year when he came off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) in the win at Pittsburgh (another game the Bengals allowed their only touchdown on the first drive) , Haslett wasn't very surprised to see Burfict play that well, that early.

"He's an instinctive guy," Haslett said. "He knows the game, he understands the scheme. I saw him do the same thing against Pittsburgh for the most part. He changes the dynamics. Everybody knows who they're getting, what they're getting. His teammates were excited to have him around. He's smooth doing it. He's effortless."

 

Cincinnati Ben-Gal Cheerleaders perform during the Miami Dolphins vs Cincinnati Bengals game 9/30/16 *Photos taken by Steve France

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