Through his seven seasons in the NFL, linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been called many things, good and bad.
In 2013 he was called a Pro Bowler. In recent seasons, opponents have labeled him a dirty player with the Cincinnati Bengals.
But now that he’s an Oakland Raider and an expected starter at one outside linebacker spot, Burfict, 28, is being called a “quarterback” of the defense by coordinator Paul Guenther – who held the same position in Cincinnati and knows Burfict well.
Through this spring’s workouts, including organized team activities (OTAs) and the recent full-squad minicamp, Guenther has praised Burfict’s contributions.
“Anytime you can add a guy with his talent and knowledge of the system” it’s a good thing, said Guenther. “When he became available, it was very attractive to us. He knows the system inside and out, he can get us out of (play) calls, I think some of the returning players are seeing the knowledge of the system that he has out on the practice field, so it’s good to have him.
“It’s like having a quarterback that you have coached, so you can get in and out of calls at the line of scrimmage. Last year, we didn’t do that as much. We did it a few times, and I just felt like it was a lot for the guys in the first year of the system to put that added weight on them. I wanted them to kind of go out and play, but now in Year 2, adding a guy like him (Burfict) and having another year in the system, the guys will pick it up a lot faster.”
Burfict, out of Arizona State, is expected to start at one outside spot opposite Marquel Lee, with former Broncos standout Brandon Marshall in the middle – though veteran Tahir Whitehead could also start.
In 2018, Burfict played just seven games, and the year before appeared in just 10. Since 2014, he’s missed 37 games. In his only full season, 2013, he led the NFL in combined tackles with 177, had three sacks, an interception, six passes defensed and made the Pro Bowl.
Burfict says he’s happy to be in a familiar system and reunited with Guenther and says he looks forward to being “a leader out there.”