While Sunday was a tough blow to the Bengals hopes of a promising 2012 campaign, there were several bright spots seen in the loss that the team can look to build off going forward. In this week’s edition of Earning their Stripes, we’re giving the award to the teams’ promising rookie weakside linebacker, Vontaze Burfict. He’s come a long way from going undrafted out of Arizona State, to starting the last four games after the opening day starter, Thomas Howard, went down with a torn ACL and was lost for the season.
Burfict went from virtually no snaps in Week 1, to playing in over 50% of the teams’ defensive snaps in every game since, and against the Dolphins, Burfict played in every snap (66) while recording seven tackles, one QB hit, and finished with a +2.2 grade from Pro Football Focus, the second-best defensive performance of the day behind Geno Atkins. But it was his key fumble recovery on special teams after the Bengals went three-and-out on their first drive of the game that allowed them to maintain possession and score the games’ first points. While they ultimately lost, those three points were crucial in keeping Cincinnati within striking distance for most of the game, and it was a pretty nice play.
On the season, he’s registered 25 tackles, one sack, and has only one missed tackle. While those stats don’t scream Defensive Rookie of the Year, Burfict has shown a lot of promise, and appears to have a spot locked down in the Bengals linebacking corps for the future, whether it be on the weakside, or if he’ll be the eventual starting middle linebacker.