In his quest to get his defense ingrained in the minds of his players, Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has begun turning to linebacker Vontaze Burfict to get his new system learned.
As the defender making all the calls at the line of scrimmage, Burfict is expected to be Guenther's eyes, ears and mouth on the field. To that end, the "Will" linebacker has to know the ins and outs of Guenther's system. Eventually, Guenther's hope is that Burfict won't be alone. He wants others by the end of training camp to know every single position's responsibility, too.
"I'm teaching the whole defense now," Guenther said at Tuesday's media luncheon at Paul Brown Stadium. "I'm teaching the outside linebackers to know what the safeties are doing, the corners to know what the linebackers are doing. That's how I taught the linebacker room and that's how I'm installing the defense."
The former linebackers coach who was promoted in January said he is going to put his players on the spot in unit-wide meetings, much like he did with Burfict and others in position meetings the past two seasons.
"The first day of install, I'm not going to say 'here's our first coverage,'" Guenther said. "I'm going to say, 'Hey, Leon [Hall], get down here and install the defense. Install this right here.' Every day a player is going to come down and get on the board and I'll say, 'What if that happens?' And go through it. I'm trying to bring everybody up to the level that Vontaze understands it."
We'll have more on the expanded leadership role the former undrafted free agent Burfict now has, but let's just say it's easy to see just how much the new defensive coordinator respects the 2013 Pro Bowler. If Andy Dalton is the quarterback of the offense, Burfict would be the quarterback of the defense, directing traffic and commanding authority, Guenther said.
If the Bengals as a defensive whole end up following Burfict's lead and adopting his intense style of play, who knows where it might get ranked this season? The unit's No. 3 ranking from last season might not be safe. After all, the unit, which lost little, save defensive end Michael Johnson and previous coordinator Mike Zimmer, could be that good.
Think about it this way. One year after ranking 14th in the league in tackles as a rookie, Burfict ended up leading the league in stops last season. If the defense follows his example this season, there is no where it can go but up.
Here are a few other items from Tuesday:
More on 'quarterback' Burfict: Like I mentioned, I'll have a little more on Burfict's leadership on the Bengals blog in the coming days. Until then, here is a longer item from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson that goes into some detail about how Guenther wants to use Burfict to help others understand the entire defense. Just as Guenther is growing into his new role, it was clear during the session with the coordinator that Burfict is growing into a bit of a new one, too.
Speaking of quarterbacks ...: The quarterback position was discussed quite a bit during Tuesday's luncheon, as evidenced by team president Mike Brown's comments that we dissected here. It wasn't much of a surprise to hear it, but Brown did admit to reporters that there were parts of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's recent contract extension that appealed to the Bengals as they continue negotiating Dalton's new deal. He didn't expand on what those parts were, but it's worth noting the contract has been widely considered a team-friendly deal. So naturally a president or owner would like parts of its language. Still, it was rather telling that Brown said he felt Dalton's deal should fall in the neighborhood of Kaepernick's deal; or at least not far from it.
More on quarterbacks: Last item on quarterbacks. It's worth mentioning that Brown sent another ringing endorsement for Dalton on Tuesday, commenting on his makeup as a player and also as a locker room presence and ambassador for the team off the field. We pointed some of that out in the item linked above, but here is a little more on that endorsement from FOX Sports Ohio's Kevin Goheen.
Getting 'Turned Up': Offense was a key issue for the Cincinnati Enquirer on Tuesday as the newspaper hosted offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on the first episode of its live, web-based show called "Beyond the Stripes." Earlier in the day, Jackson told one of the paper's video crews that his offense needed to "get turned up."