From future star, to undrafted free agent, to starting NFL linebacker, to the Bengals leading tackler, to playoff starter. That’s been the last couple of years for Bengals rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Around the time of the NFL Draft there were whole bunch of questions about Burfict. His on-field demeanor, his ability, his attitude and his motivation were all topics of conversation, but the Bengals ended up taking a chance on the former Arizona State star and in his rookie season they have been rewarded. Cincinnati changed some of his habits, coached him up and now he looks like a defensive piece for the Bengals for years to come and the tough linebacker that they had been searching for.
Vontaze Burfict joined XTRA Sports 910 in Phoenix with Bickley and MJ to talk about how different the preparation is for this weekend’s playoff game as opposed to the regular season, on the task of trying to stop the Texans running game, whether he knew anything about Geno Atkins before he got to Cincinnati, on the relationship between him and Mike Zimmer, and whether he ever thinks about not getting drafted.
How different the preparation is for this weekend’s playoff game as opposed to the regular season:
“Practice-wise we have less mistakes to make because everything has to be on cue, especially us having a short week this week everything has to be perfect. Fly around to the ball and everything seems faster in practice. For game time, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be much faster. This is my first playoff game so I’m expecting big things.”
On the task of trying to stop the Texans running game:
“That’s going to be key for us. Arian Foster is a great, great ability, great bounce runner, has great speed and he can break tackles as well so it’s going to be key for our linebackers and our defensive line to just stay in their gaps because he has the ability to hit that gap. For me and Rey (Maualuga) it’s our key to get off blocks, make the play, wrap up the ball-carrier and hope we have all 11 to the ball.”
Whether he knew anything about Geno Atkins before he got to Cincinnati:
“I knew a little bit about him. We played Georgia my freshman year and he had about five tackles that game and I kind of knew about him. Once I got here then I got to know the guy even more and he’s very strong, very powerful and he has low center of gravity which is hard for the lineman to get him because he’s what like six foot? The other linemen are like 6-5 so for him to have that low center of gravity and the power he has it’s very hard for some o-linemen to block him. On the other side we have Domata Peko and you can’t forget about him because some o-linemen think they just have to block Geno, but we have another great defensive tackle and great ends so it’s going to be a great game.”
On his relationship between him and Mike Zimmer:
“He’s a great coach. When I first got here I was kind of scared to play for him because the rookie training camp he was always yelling but as time went by we got a closer relationship and he understands me and I understand him and I understand he wants me to be the best player he can coach me out to be and he told me one day that I could be a great linebacker and I just had to listen to him and do what he wants me to do. That’s what I do every day when I wake up. I praise God that I’m playing football, the game I love to play and I have great coaches. My first game was against Washington and I did okay that game and just felt like I needed a little more reps and a little more film study. The coaches sat down with me and did that.”
Whether he thinks about not being drafted often:
“Not at all. I can’t think about what happened. A lot of draft analysis people pictured me out to be the wrong person. A lot of people were saying I’m a bad kid and I had been in trouble off the field but I have never been in trouble off the field, so for me it was just at the end of the day just do my job and play football, the game that I love to play. I don’t really dawn back to what happened back in the draft because that can stop my process of getting better each day. When I wake up I pray to God and just keep everything moving and just stay positive.”
If he is bothered by the fact that he went undrafted and only received a $1,000 signing bonus:
“Not at all. I’m not playing football for the money. All the rookies pretty much make the same amount of money so that’s not a problem to me at all. I’m playing football because I love to play football and I love to have great teammates and play for great coaches. If I was in the game for money, what’s the point of me even playing right now? That would be pointless. For me to say I’m mad that I didn’t get drafted and I only got a $1,000 signing bonus that has nothing to do with me playing football right now.”