The Cincinnati Bengals have made a change with linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Signed as a middle linebacker out of Arizona State in 2012, Burfict moved to weakside linebacker in Week 3 of his rookie season when starter Thomas Howard went down with a season-ending knee injury. And he had been a starter there ever since, until Sunday.
With starting MIKE linebacker Kevin Minter out with an elbow injury, the Bengals elected to move Burfict back to his native spot in the middle.
“He plays the MIKE linebacker in the nickel,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said when asked about the thought process of moving Burfict inside. “He used to be the outside linebacker in base and then he goes to the middle linebacker and nickel and Nick (Vigil) was the outside linebacker. Now he’s just playing MIKE, and that’s what he loves.”
Burfict finished with eight tackles, the second most on the team, in the 24-23 win against the Colts.
“Some teams will try to get him out of the box, get him out of the way and run it the other way, so now they can’t out-formation us to get him out of the mix of things,” Guenther said. “A lot of the runs will get spilled to the MIKE, and he’s running over the top of things. It’s a natural spot for him. He feels comfortable in there and he’ll be able to play in in both the base and nickel.”
The move also creates an opportunity for Guenther to get a look at rookie sixth-round pick Jordan Evans, who is better suited to play WIL than MIKE.
While Evans didn’t play a single snap on defense against the Colts, that should change Sunday in Jacksonville.
“We’re going to get Jordan Evans some reps in there this week at WIL,” Guenther said. “Really it takes some snaps off of Nick, maybe he can play some in the nickel. The guy (Evans) in practice shows like he showed in the preseason. He got a little dinged up here early in the year so he kind of got left to the side there a little, but now he‘s back healthy and running and we’ve got to utilize his coverage skills. He’s probably the best coverage linebacker.”
Guenther said he isn’t prepared to say whether the change will be permanent because he doesn’t know how long Minter will be out beyond this week.
“Who knows who is going to be available at that point,” he said. “It could be a whole different ball of wax at that point.”