Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther spoke Friday, discussing a potential future coaching spot for beleagured Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, once again taking a position defending his player's behavior:
"Everybody thinks he's this thug, and he doesn’t understand this," Guenther said. "I think it's awful. The way he’s being perceived right now is terrible. I feel terrible for the kid."
Keep in mind, the word "thug" is Guenther's choice of words; one that might be insensitive in this era. What I think Guenther wanted to say, but wouldn't, is "dirty player." And he (nor Burfict) understand why Burfict is considered a dirty player.
I understand it completely fine, but Guenther continues, talking about Burfict's hit on a defenseless Antonio Brown, one that concussed the Steelers star WR and rendered him out for the team's following Divisional Playoff game against the Denver Broncos:
"If he wanted to kill that guy... he could've really killed him. But he didn't... I guess he's gotta aim lower. I guess I gotta teach it different."
He guesses... Burfict guesses his play needs to change as well:
"I play hard. Sometimes it gets me in trouble," Burfict said in an interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson. "My style of play is aggressive, and [the game has] changed, and I have to change with it."
The problem is, Burfict comes off as someone who feels the NFL has recently changed: it hasn't, at least not recently.
Vontaze Burfict entered the league in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Hits on defenseless players, as well as some helmet hits, have been categorized for all of this decade. The defenseless rules came in 2010, 2 years before Burfict started playing in the NFL. Helmet hit rules were modified to be slightly more punitive a year after Burfict's entrance into the NFL. He has had 3 years to learn to modify his style of play.
Guenther continued to defend his player, saying "He's way smarter than everybody gives him credit for."
I would have to agree. After all, NFL players go through college, hopefully gaining a higher education in the process, before coming to the NFL. It's not a question as to whether they are smart (or not) rather, whether they want to change. Burfict just doesn't have a bad reputation, he's earned a bad reputation by his history of dirty play.
A week before knocking Antonio Brown out (literally) Burfict was fined $50,000 for his hit on Ravens TE Maxx Williams. The hit was away from play.
In 2013, Burfict was fined for punching a Green Bay Packer in the groin. In 2014, he was fined for twisting players' ankles after the whistle, including Panthers QB Cam Newton.
Also, Burfict has his own history with the Pittsburgh Steelers, following a controversial low hit which placed RB Le'Veon Bell on injured reserve. The hit, which was questionable in it's own right, was exaggerated by Burfict celebrating having injured Bell. It was even rumored that Guenther apologized to Steelers players for the hit on Bell, to which Guenther was quoted as saying "no way" and smirking, before he again defended his player's actions:
"That was a clean hit. You can print that," Guenther told ESPN. "The guy came out and ran a little option route on him, and Vontaze tackled him, and he just got his feet tangled up underneath him. "There was nothing wrong with it."
It's an interesting series of statements, considering Guenther called Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter "an embarrassment to the coaching profession" following an incident where Bengals players confronted Porter on the field while the coach was attending to the concussed Antonio Brown.
Instead of calling other coaches an "embarassment" Guenther should look at his own statements: he claims needing to teach his players differently, but has apparently made no attempt at doing so, given the track record of one of his own "smart" players and defending his actions at every turn.
It's far more embarrassing that Guenther doesn't understand why Burfict is labeled a dirty player, ends up costing the Bengals their first playoff win since 1991, and gets suspended for the first 3 games of 2016.