Marvin Lewis sees Burfict as future starter

Vontaze Burfict, this year's most talked about undrafted rookie, has been working with the Bengals' starting defense in place of injured middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.

This could be a glimpse of the Bengals' future.

Asked last week whether he thought Burfict would eventually be a starter in the NFL, Lewis told ESPN.com, "Oh yeah. Unquestionably."

Burfict plummeted from a potential first-round pick to not being among the 253 players drafted in 2012. His stock dropped after a senior season filled with personal fouls and poor workouts in the offseason.

He has been impressive this summer while running with the third-team defense. Burfict had an interception in the team's mock game a week ago and then picked off Tim Tebow in the preseason opener. The turnover was the result of Burfict reacting to a tendency that he saw in film of the Jets last season.

Besides film study, one of the keys to Burfict's success has been losing weight. He played too heavy at Arizona State from the Bengals' perspective.

"He's done very well," Lewis said last week. "He's why he was a top high school recruit. He's got all of those abilities."

It's uncertain whether Burfict will get the start in Thursday's preseason game at Atlanta. When Maualuga hurt his knee in the preseason opener, Roddrick Muckelroy replaced him.

But Burfict is in the Bengals' plans going forward, especially when you consider all of the team's starting linebackers (Maualuga, Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson) are free agents next season.