There could be another candidate to replace Howard -- high-profile undrafted middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. According to the team's official website, Burfict told some reporters that he'll start at that outside linebacker spot. Head coach Marvin Lewis didn't confirm this Friday, saying the team will line up Burfict, Skuta and Rey at any point. The website speculated Burfict and Skuta would play early downs and Rey would play on passing downs.
Burfict has the highest ceiling of any of the backup linebackers and is a personal favorite of Lewis. Character issues caused Burfict to fall from a first-round prospect to an undrafted one. Lewis then actively recruited Burfict to the Bengals in April.
Since a poor showing at the NFL combine in February, Burfict shed 15 pounds and impressed the coaches in offseason workouts and in the preseason. He intercepted Andy Dalton in the team's mock game this summer and picked off Tim Tebow in the preseason.
Asked about Howard's injury in practice, Lewis told reporters, "Just a freak thing that happens. I've seen too many of them in 31 years of coaching before I even knew what an ACL was. It was in our drills. He felt like he was fine, 'I'm all right, I'm all right.' Then they are not. Unfortunately, we take them in that room and put that machine on them and they are not."