Vontaze Burfict (55) making what the Bengals says is a legal hit on Anthony Sherman.
With his appeal scheduled to be heard later Tuesday, Vontaze Burfict reiterated his belief that he legally hit Chiefs running back Anthony Sherman last week and that his five-game suspension should be overturned while his head coach vigorously defended him and two fellow Bengals linebackers agreed that it wasn't illegal.
"Does Vontaze hit him from the back or from the side or does he put his shoulder into the number of the Kanas City Chiefs player," said Marvin Lewis, a member of the NFL competition committee who believes replays exonerate Burfict. "Obviously I'd have to be facing you to put my number in there. It seems pretty obvious."
Burfict said he'll continue to cover receivers the same way he took on Sherman coming out of the backfield and says he lowered his knees and lowered the target.
"I see other linebackers do the same thing I do, but obviously they don't get called for it," said Burfict before Tuesday's walk-through. "It's always been like that. It's been like that since I can remember."
Burfict is facing a second suspension involving violation of safety violation rules by hitting a defenseless receiver. But the Bengals argue Burfict made a legal hit within five yards of the line of scrimmage over the middle and hit Sherman in the chest with his shoulder as he was turning his head and Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was throwing a 36-yard pass to tight end Travis Kelce down the middle of the field.
"When he ran the angle route he looked at me and then looked at (Smith)," Burfict said. "If I look at the linebacker and obviously he has me man-to- man, I'm not going to look back at the quarterback, you have to keep your head on a swivel. Different rules these days I guess. Let them run the routes. If I had let him run the route, I have no help on the other side of me and no help behind me. If I let him catch it he can go for 20-25 yards."
Lewis, who says Burfict hits like "dynamite," and "a cement truck," argues that Burfict was within his coverage rights working within five yards of the line of scrimmage while the quarterback still had the ball in his hand and that it wasn't away from the play.
"Particularly on the same parallel line as the fullback and the tight end are," Lewis said. "The quarterback sets his feet and pumps to the fullback. They're on the same parallel line. Sometimes in the interpretation things get lost. Hopefully Vontaze will prevail on this."
The key, it seems, is that Smith has the ball in his hand as Burfict goes into the play.
"All that would seem to make sense," Lewis said. "Everybody who understands how linebackers and secondary people play football, it all makes sense."
Although Lewis says this play has nothing to do with the NFL's emphasis this season on cleaning up needless shots away from the ball by keeping an eye on route running, he says Burfict has changed his style of play that has cost him about $1 million in fines.
"I think Vontaze has changed quite a bit. He's changed a lot," Lewis said. "The very next play the quarterback scrambles, Vontaze jumps over him when Alex Smith slides. The very next play after that the back goes into the flat. He's going for a first down, and Tez, instead of diving in there and spearing him, he touches him down and jumps over him out of bounds.
"In the first game against Tampa Bay, (Mike Evans) comes across the middle the same way he hits this player. He doesn't make the tackle because he tried to take his head out of it."
Burfict indicated Sunday night that he feels his hard-hitting can sometimes look like he went higher than allowed and Lewis seems to agree.
"He's a 250-pound man and hits like a sack of dynamite," Lewis said. "It's like getting hit by a cement truck. That's the way he plays. He's got great hip explosion. That's the way he plays. The dynamics of his body, it's like getting hit by a 300-pound person."
Lewis says going frame by frozen fame on film would show it but that's not the point.
"Yes," said Lewis when asked if he's still surprised by the initial ruling. "His head is not part of the play," Lewis said. "As you can see in every single angle, behind him, in front of him, all you see is his helmet outside the play. No contact what so ever … Still, we don't officiate the game that way (frame by frame replays), we don't put officials in that. I don't see how players can be held to that standard as well."
Two of his fellow backers agreed with Burfict and one, Vincent Rey, said, "At the very least I expect it to be reduced."
"I was a little bit surprised to see how long. Five games is a lot to me," Nick Vigil said. "It looked like a legal hit from the front with the shoulder. Maybe a little high, but it looked good to me. That's how he plays. He's a physical player. That's Vontaze. If you're in the game he's going to hit you. It's football. You're going to get hit. You have to have your head on a swivel."
Rey, who'll be the starter at WILL if the suspension stands, started the three games Burfict missed last year for the suspension stemming from the 2015 Wild Card Game.
"Five games? Are you serious?" Rey said of his first reaction. "We understand where the NFL is going and trying to protect players. But it seemed like it was within five yards. It seemed like it was a shoulder and he was leading with his helmet."
Rey, the senior backer in the room with 37 starts, is two games away from his 100th game as a Bengal. He knows the heartbeat of this club and Burfict. He says he and his mates, if they replace him by committee, will know what to do. But he knows there's only one Burfict.
"I've been playing here with Tez for (six) years now. I love being on the field with him," Rey said. "That's one thing that hurts the most is that (maybe) we're not going to be on the field together from the start in game one. His energy is infectious to the whole team. Not just the defense, but the whole team sees his energy and we all pick up our game."