The mantra every year at the Cincinnati Bengals pre-training camp luncheon is that last season doesn’t mean anything or have any bearing on the upcoming campaign because nothing carries over.
But that’s not true for 2016.
The suspension levied on linebacker Vontaze Burfict for repeated violations of player-safety rules carries over to the first three games this year, and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis offered a surprising response when asked how he will handle the situation during training camp and the preseason.
“I am not going to play Vontaze Burfict in the preseason,” Lewis said.
Even though Burfict is eligible to play in all preseason games and practice until Sept. 3 when the suspension kicks in, Lewis said he’s following the same line of thought he had during OTAs and minicamp, when he frequently pulled Burfict off the field after stretching and position drills.
“I did every day I could during this offseason, and I’m going to do the same thing this training camp,” Lewis said.
The Bengals obviously know what they have in Burfict, and putting him into meaningless preseason games in August when he won’t be available to play until Week 4 against Miami isn’t a gamble Lewis is willing to take.
“There’s no reason for us to risk him getting hurt,” he said. “It’s hard because he’s so competitive. We have to continue to hold him back. One day he gets it, the next day he wants to fight me on it. There’s just no reason for us to expose him to injury because he’s too valuable.”
While Burfict’s competitive fire is something the coaches want to continue to see, they know it has to be controlled. And they believe it will and, in some regards, already has due to the ramifications his latest personal foul had on the ending of the playoff game and ensuing suspension to start 2016.
“Oh yeah,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said when asked if the whole experience has changed Burfict.
“We’ve addressed it throughout the spring,” Guenther added. “One of the things I told him is: ‘We’re not going to change the way we play. What we are going to do is we’re going to put our foot on the gas pedal, but we’re going to be smarter in those situations.
“You have to understand guys are targeting you,” he continued. “They are going to try to get underneath your skin and try to do those things.’ That’s been my whole M.O. We’re not changing how we play. We are not changing our style of how we play. We’re going to be smarter situationally and emotionally.”
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Coaching technique is one thing, but coaching emotion can be tricky, although Guenther has a plan for training camp.
“I can get that (Christian) Westerman kid after him in practice or whatever,” Guenther said of the rookie offensive lineman, this year’s fifth-round pick. “I’ve done it before in the past. One of the young rookie guys, just to test him. There are a lot of ways. You show him clips of different things, different sports, different situations that you can work through those things. Hopefully we learn from this lesson and we move forward.”
Lewis said he has no concerns about Burfict reverting to the style of play that drew eight penalties last year, three of which were 15-yarders.
“I think Vontaze will be a very good football player once he gets back out there playing football games,” Lewis said. “He continues to be a great mentor for the defensive players, for the young players. He’s such an extension of the coaching staff as far as the scheme and everything that way.
“There’s things that have been brought to his attention,” Lewis added. “Now he understands.”