Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict had a simple message for his teammates Monday before heading out to his first practice of training camp:
“I told them, ‘I’m not going to be the Energizer Bunny today. Just let me focus on me today because it’s the first day,’” Burfict told reporters after practice.
The Bengals placed Burfict on the Active/Non-Football Injury list prior to the start of the first practice July 26, and while he had been present at every practice, he was mostly a spectator other than some rehab work on the side field.
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After passing his physical Monday morning, Burfict wasn’t a full participant in his first practice, sitting out some of the drills later in the session, but he was more active than he thought he might be.
And he admitted his conditioning isn’t where it needs to be, which was evident when he took a break from one of the first periods of individual drills – where one linebacker would try to punch the ball free from the grip of another – after just two reps.
“It’s not there yet,” Burfict said of his conditioning. “I was running like five plays in a row. I hope I don’t have to run five plays. I kind of want to do three-and-out when I go out there.
“(Individual drills) is probably the hardest thing, because it’s non-stop, but other than that I feel pretty good,” he said. “It felt good just to be out there with my teammates. I was kind anxious to go out there and communicate with Preston (Brown), just to get a feel for him and see how we play with pads on and under duress.”
It will be nine more weeks before Burfict gets to play under true duress in the regular season due to his four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Burfict is eligible to play in the preseason games, but head coach Marvin Lewis has declined to say whether he will. Two years ago when Burfict was facing a three-game suspension following his hit against Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in the AFC wildcard game, Lewis didn’t play Burfict in any preseason games.
Last year when Burfict drew a five-game suspension for a hit on Kansas City’s Anthony Sherman in the second preseason game, which later was reduced to three games, the linebacker still played in the third preseason game before sitting out the fourth one with all of the other starters.
Burfict said he wants to play and thinks it would be helpful if he does.
“I would say it’s important just to be out there with my teammates,” Burfict said. “But even when I’m not out there I’m going to be on the sideline being a coach for some of the young guys. But it is important for me to play. I’m pretty sure the Bengals and (team owner and president) Mr. (Mike) Brown will make sure I’m ready to go before I get out there and not hurt anything.”
While Burfict hasn’t been on the field since camp began, he took part in OTAs and minicamp and has been present for all meetings as new coordinator Teryl Austin overhauls the defense.
Burfict said he’s excited about the changes but admitted he struggled some with them Monday.
“I didn’t feel that comfortable and confident because it’s my first day,” he said. “I didn’t want to have too many mental errors. I didn’t have any today. That was my thing. I wanted to come out and make sure I got everything correct, my line assignments correct and stuff like that. I think I did a great job of that other than just competing and running to the ball.”
Here are some other observations from Day 10 of Bengals camp:
After the rough mock game in which four of his snaps hit the ground, rookie center Billy Price didn’t have a bad one Monday. … Wide receiver John Ross, who also had a rough mock game with two drops, dropped an easy 10-yard pass from position coach Bob Bicknell during individual drills early in practice. … Linebacker Brandon Bell intercepted an Andy Dalton pass that was a bit high and went off the hands of running Giovani Bernard. … Quarterback Jeff Driskel went from good to bad in a span of two plays, hitting wide receiver Jared Murphy with a well-place thrown on a deep seam before missing a wide-open Ka’Raun White on a deep ball on the next snap, floating the ball well out of bounds. … Wide receiver Cody Core had an impressive one-handed catch early in practice and a touchdown late, both in 11-on-11 drills, but he also dropped an easy catch in 7-on-7. … Kicker Randy Bullock went 6 for 6, with his two longest coming from 46 yards.