Cincinnati Bengals: How to Replace Vontaze Burfict

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Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) reacts after sacking Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the third quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) reacts after sacking Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the third quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /
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Boasting players like Nick Vigil, Paul Dawson, and Vincent Rey, the Bengals are deep at linebacker. Who’s ready to replace Vontaze Burfict?

As the period of darkness over the NFL comes to a close with the dawn of training camps, the Bengals have a few major positional questions that need answers. Linebacker is among the biggest.

With the departure of A.J. Hawk and the suspensions of Vontaze Burfict and Taylor Mays, there’s more than one major gap at outside linebacker for the Bengals. Until Burfict returns from suspension in Week 4, either PJ Dawson, Nick Vigil, Trevor Roach, Karlos Dansby, or Vincent Rey will have to step up.

Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The easy (and likely correct) assumption is that newly acquired Karlos Dansby will slide right into AJ Hawk’s mentor role from last year. While Hawk was a great leader, this change should help the Bengals. Dansby is a hard-nosed defender that should help teach the value of hard work the Bengals’ plethora of young defensive players.

Filling the void created by the absence of Burfict and Mays is a much taller order. Vincent Rey has tenure with the Bengals, but he’s already 28-years-old. He’s shown occasional flashes of playmaking ability. He is what he is at this point, and the Bengals know that. He needs to fight, to keep from being swept under the rug by promising young talent, this training camp.

Trevor Roach is a man of mystery for Bengals fans. He’s been fine when he’s played in preseason action, but Bengals fans hardly ever see him on the field. At just 24-years-old, the undrafted free agent from Nebraska fits the young and unproven linebacker profile. While he’s young with promise, his lack of playing time last year suggests he still has issues with his game. Whether it’s for playing time or a roster spot, Roach will be working come training camp.

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Nick Vigil is the new kid on the block at the Bengals facility. The first Bengals draft selection in a while that’s been widely criticized, Vigil has something to prove this offseason. The knock on him coming out of college was a lack of strength, so if he wants playing time, he needs to prove the doubters wrong. Vigil is usually more of an inside linebacker.  But, the Bengals’ coaches like him enough that he could easily find minutes in the absence of Burfict.

Last, but certainly not least, is PJ Dawson. He’s is the X-factor in this competition. A lot like Burfict mentally, Dawson fell to round three in last year’s draft. Lack of discipline was the main reason. His tape and measurables suggest he’s by far the best talent in the group, but will that get him playing time? With massive potential in such a young player, the Bengals will want to get Dawson on the field. His attitude will determine how much he can achieve.

The Bengals have always had plenty of depth at linebacker. It’s time to see who can step up to the plate when they’re needed.

Next: How Will They Deal?

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