This week, John Fay is getting answers to nine questions the Bengals face heading into the regular season. This is the third of the series.
CINCINNATI — How much will the Bengals miss Vontaze Burfict in Games 1-2-3? The quick answer: A lot.
Burfict is the Bengals’ best linebacker and he adds toughness and swagger to the defense that’s hard to replace. That being said, he missed the first six games last year while recovering from a knee injury. The Bengals were 6-0 in those games.
Still, it’s clear the Bengals' defense is much better with Burfict. Team president Mike Brown said so in his preseason remarks.
“He is one hell of a football player,” Brown said. “We want him on the field. I regret that for the first three games this year, we won’t have him. But he’ll be back then, and we expect outstanding play from him. He’s a difference-maker. We’re lucky to have him.”
Vincent Rey started in Burfict’s stead for those six games last year. Rey led the team in tackles for the season and averaged 9.5 tackles in the games he started for Burfict. Rey is listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Burfict.
Nick Vigil, the third-round draft pick out of Utah State, had a good preseason, particularly in Game 4.
“As a linebacker in college he did everything you’d expect a guy to do,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’d play in there, do a nice job versus the run, he was a good tackler, a guy that understood the passing game, passing lanes, and he can run. He’s just going to continue to grow bigger and stronger.”
Burfict, meanwhile, is away from the team during the suspension. Lewis declined to say what Burfict can do. His only game-like action since last year was playing in the Aug. 6. mock game. He did not play in any of preseason games even though he was eligible.
So it’s hard to say how effective he’ll be when he returns. Then there’s matter of whether he can play under control. His three-game suspension was due to a head-on-head hit in the Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh. The NFL will obviously keep a close eye on Burfict upon his return.
But there’s little doubt that if Burfict come backs, plays like the Pro Bowler he’s been and stays on the field, the Bengals are a much better team.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion.
QUESTION 1: How will Bengals fare without Tyler Eifert?
QUESTION 2: Will Alex Erickson shine in regular season?