Leading up to the start of training camp for the Cincinnati Bengals on July 29, we’re breaking down each position group.
Today’s look is at the linebackers, a group that will be without their best player, Vontaze Burfict, for the first three games of the season.
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With Vontaze Burfict suspended for the first three games for repeated violations of the league’s player-safety rules, one of the linebackers on the bubble for a roster spot will get a chance to prove he belongs.
Newly acquired Karlos Dansby, Vinny Rey, Rey Maualuga and a pair of recent third-round picks, Nick Vigil (2016) and P.J. Dawson (2015) would appear to be locks to make the 53-man roster. That will leave Jayson DiManche, Marquis Flowers, Trevor Roach, Darrien Harris and, possibly Jeff Luc (more on his situation later) to battle it out for the last of what should be six spots.
Here are five things to know about the linebackers:,
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict will miss the first three games of the season while serving his suspension for repeated violations of the league’s player-safety rules, and while his presence certainly will be missed, it may not be the huge blow many expect it to be.
The addition of Nick Vigil in the third round and the continued presence of do-everything backup Vinny Rey means the Bengals have the depth to overcome Burfict’s absence, which is something they’ve proven they can do in the past.
Burfict missed 11 games due to concussions and a knee injury in 2014, and he spent the first six weeks of 2015 on the Physically Unable to Perform list while rehabbing the knee. The Bengals record in those 17 games Burfict missed is 13-4.
One of the keys for Jim Haslett in his first year as Bengals linebacker coach will be to control the sort of over-the-top antics by Burfict that led to his three-game suspension. The good news for Bengals fans – and Burfict – is that Haslett has experience with that sort of thing.
Haslett was the head coach of the New Orleans Saints when mercurial and oft-penalized offensive tackle Kyle Turley was playing. Turley had one of the most infamous meltdowns in NFL history when he reached into a pile after a play, ripped off the helmet of Jets cornerback Damien Robinson, flung it across the field and delivered an obscene gesture.
The addition of Karlos Dansby in the offseason gives the Bengals a player who has accomplished something the team has been unable to do since 1990 – winning in the postseason.
Dansby is 4-2 in six career playoff games and is one of three players on the roster who played in a Super Bowl. Dansby was on the Arizona team that lost to Pittsburgh is Super Bowl XLIII.
The other two players on the roster with Super Bowl experience also were signed in the offseason – cornerback Chykie Brown (won with the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII) and wide receiver Brandon LaFell (won with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX).
Rey Maualuga enters his eighth season as the starting middle linebacker, but it will be worth watching if he finishes the year that way. Maualuga has long had the support of Bengals coaches, but the team signed Vinny Rey to a three-year, $10.5 million contract this offseason, an unusually rich deal for a backup.
The Bengals also drafted Nick Vigil in the third round. The last time the Bengals drafted a linebacker higher than Vigil was in 2009 when they took Maualuga in the second round. Vigil projects as a WILL backer, but he spent the spring learning all three positions and drew raves from head coach Marvin Lewis, who said, ““To see Nick Vigil out there today running the defense like he’s been the MIKE linebacker the entire time was really good.”
University of Cincinnati product Jeff Luc is still listed as a linebacker wearing No. 50 on the roster on the team’s official web site, but the Bengals were giving Luc a look at fullback during spring workouts, when he was wearing No. 44.
“I would say it was a mutual thing,” Luc told reporters. “It’s up to the coach to make the decision and it’s up to me to go out and do the best I can. It was brought up to me and I said, ‘Sure, whatever I can do to help the team.’ I just want to win.”
It will be interesting to see which number Luc is wearing when he shows up for the first day of camp.