Vontaze Burfict is expected to be wearing No. 55 Sunday and making his season debut in a limited role.
One of these days turned out to be Sunday against the Steelers (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Heinz Field.
Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals Pro Bowl WILL linebacker, went from the practice field to the active roster Saturday in 48 hours when the club cut wide receiver Greg Little and replaced him by moving Burfict from the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
It took the Bengals 56 days to make a change to their 53-man roster and it was as big as it gets. Burfict is the guts of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's operation as his signal-caller and surest tackler. Before injuring his knee 53 weeks ago and undergoing micro fracture knee surgery, he led the Bengals in tackles in 2012 and again in 2013, when he led the league and made the Pro Bowl with his widely acclaimed instinctive play.
It's believed Burfict is going to dress but as head coach Marvin Lewis said Friday, he's not expected to play a full game because he's not in football shape. He didn't get medically cleared until Wednesday and has had only one full-scale practice under his belt. So it would be hard to see him playing more than 15 snaps or so.
Although he'll be in a limited role, it marks the first time the front seven from the No. 3 defense in 2013 has been re-united with a healthy Geno Atkins and the return of Michael Johnson up front.
After his first practice in more than a year Thursday, Burfict sounded a note of caution when he said, "Hopefully I can get out there and play on Sunday one of these days."
But it is now full steam ahead. It will be interesting to see who Lewis sits from the roster on Sunday to make room for Burfict. The leading candidate would be the linebacker that has played the fewest snaps, rookie P.J. Dawson. But the Bengals would be losing a special teams player without adding one and a player that also plays Burfict's spot. Until Burfict gets settled and his status becomes clearer, they may want to go with an extra backer.
But that's probably going to be a game-time decision.
Although the Bengals cut Little after he didn't dress for a game this season, they like him enough that they'd be looking at adding him if they needed him and he was available.
Burfict's voracious competitiveness and relentless intensity have been his hallmarks as much as production, so there was only a little bit of caution.
"Of course I would want to go. I'm a football player. I'm competitive," Burfict said after Thursday's practice. "That's up to Marvin. My mind is to play, but like I said that's up to Marvin."
On Friday Lewis said he was basing any decision on Burfict's long-term health, as well as unanimity in the organization.
"I think about his career. That's what I worry about," Lewis said. "I'm not worried about our season. I worry about his career. "
"When everybody agrees he's ready to play, he'll play," Lewis said. "But it's got to be everybody. That's what I have to see. I have to see everybody in agreement . . . Medical, me and what we see as a football player."
Although micro fracture surgery is viewed as dicey by some because reconstituting cartilage is still evolving, Burfict expressed confidence in how his knee felt after Thursday's practice in shoulder pads.
"I would have never been out there practicing if I wasn't confident," Burfict said. "The NFL is a physical game. I wouldn't want to go out there with a bad knee and having to do something else different to it. I feel confident in it and I'm able to break and accelerate and break down."
Even before Burfict got hurt in the Oct. 26, 2014 win over Baltimore, he had been hounded by injuries all season, starting with a concussion in the opener that made him sit out a game and a cervical strain that put him out of another. But on Thursday he was thankful the long, winding road had stopped.
"There were some hard days when I didn't feel like doing rehab, but Marvin made sure he calls me and made sure I get into the stadium," Burfict said. "There were some hard days, but I'm here now and looking forward to playing a game.
"Teammates . . . kept pushing me. They knew when I was out of it. One day when I didn't feel like doing rehab and they'll just push me to do it. I've been pushed by teammates, coaches, Mr. (Mike) Brown and I thank them for it."