Vontaze Burfict: Bengals Need a Leader, Not an Enforcer


Can Vontaze Burfict got more of a leader for this defense? Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt when it comes to Vontaze Burfict’s skill.  He’s extremely talented while possessing an extremely high football I.Q.  It’s these qualities that give Burfict a potentially bright future in the NFL.  He’s already accomplished so much having gone from UDFA to NFL tackles leader and All-Pro in just two years time.  But Vontaze Burfict’s impact needs to go beyond that if he is truly to be the “heart and soul” of the Bengals’ defense while establishing himself as one of the league’s premier defenders.  This will take some adjustment in his game.

Much has been made of Burfict’s questionable plays this past weekend on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen.  Here are the plays in question (compliments of Brennen Warner).

The plays caused real outrage from Greg Olsen.

"“It’s pretty obvious that’s not what this league is all about. You understand that sometimes there’s penalties and guys kind of go above and beyond the lines with some hits, and helmet-to-helmet. That’s all in the flow of the game, and it’s hard to avoid at times. But I think instances like that, that are so clearly premeditated that he had in his mind if those opportunities, that he was going to try to attack not only guys’ legs, but guys who were coming off ankle problems specifically, there’s no room for it.”"

The plays are questionable and Burfict was fined for them today.

But regardless of where you find yourself on this issue, Vontaze Burfict has built this type of reputation for himself as pointed out by Adam Jones (who disagrees with the fine).

It’s this reputation that keeps Burfict from doing what this defense really needs him to do: lead.  These types of “enforcer” actions won’t inspire the defense to play better and they won’t help the Bengals gain an advantage, outside of causing an injury to an opposing player.

This team needs Burfict to lead them rather than “lose his head” and make bone-headed mistakes that often lead to penalties.  This was apparent following a “roughing the passer” penalty in the first quarter of the Panthers’ game when Marvin Lewis had this reaction to Vontaze Burfict falling into Cam Newton.

It’s unfortunate that Burfict has developed this type of reputation because there has undoubtedly been times where unwarranted penalties have been called on him.  Nonetheless, reputations are formed from a line of actions and Burfict has developed his from reckless play at times.

Burfict must learn to focus himself on the field and learn to utilize his aggression only when appropriate.  The Bengals have struggled in “big moments” historically and, because of this, are in need a player who responds to these moments in a more focused fashion.  They need a player who these moments “aren’t to big for” (a phrase we’ve heard often from Marvin Lewis in the past).  Vontaze Burfict could be that guy.  If he can settle down and focus, he would be revered throughout the league as one of its best players while raising this team to new heights.

There’s no doubt Burfict is a team player.  He loves his guys and Marvin Lewis alike.  But in order to be what this team really needs, Burfict must first realize what his team needs.  He must realize his leadership potential and focus less on the “enforcer” in him.