<
>

Bengals mail Part 2: What are the odds Vontaze Burfict plays this season?

CINCINNATI -- Will Vontaze Burfict suit up this fall for the Cincinnati Bengals, or won't he?

That's among the more pressing questions Bengals fans have this offseason, and it's exactly where we turn as we kick off the second part of this weekend's Bengals mailbag:

@ColeyHarvey. Salutations to the folks on the "new" Bengals Message Board. Now, to answer your question. I have to say I'm not good with percentages, and I'm really not good with them when it concerns players and injuries. So, that said, will we see Vontaze Burfict playing this season? At this stage, that's anyone's guess, including Burfict's and the Bengals'. The Pro Bowl linebacker still is undergoing rehab from the microfracture surgery he had on his left knee back in January. While we caught a glimpse of him going through some of his rehab drills on the first open day of organized team activities (OTAs) nearly a month ago, he hasn't been training in front of reporters since. Based off what I'm hearing, I would be surprised if we see him do much to the side during his week's mandatory minicamp, too. Training camp might be the time we have a better answer about where Burfict's chances of playing this season are. I will say, microfracture surgery is a very serious one. It's had a number of success stories, but it has been littered with its failures, too. It is not easy to come back from. As long as Burfict has been taking his treatment patiently and maintains the hungry attitude that got him in the league in the first place, he should be on the field at some point this season. Will it be at the beginning of the season? Maybe not. But if he does those things, he'll play again. Then the question will be, can he get back to his old Pro Bowl form? @ColeyHarvey. Thanks for the question, Joel. First, I'd say lumping Andre Smith in the mix with Cedric Ogbuehi and Dre Kirkpatrick is a bit of a stretch. Smith will be a seven-year vet this year, while Ogbuehi was just drafted and Kirkpatrick is entering only his fourth year. But to answer your question, yes, Cincinnati has moved on from the days of drafting players who might have top-of-the-line potential, but who also are character risks. Marvin Lewis isn't in the business of changing behaviors, even if he has a good locker room that will do it for him. He wants good, valuable draft picks who can contribute long term for his team. Kirkpatrick and Ogbuehi fit that desire. To the point about injury risk, Ogbuehi's biggest health concern is the one he's currently fighting. Freak ACL tears aren't an indication a player is injury prone. Besides, he's just getting into the league. He needs more time than this before getting labeled an injury risk. As for Kirkpatrick, he says he has tweaked his off-field habits in a way that ought to help prevent the hamstring tweaks he regularly received the first couple years of his career. @ColeyHarvey. I'm getting the sense of deja vu here, Cbraines. I feel like you and I have discussed this via another mailbag before. Then again, it's the end of spring workouts and things might be a little foggy inside my head. I could be mixing up Twitter conversations with mailbags and the like. I digress ... When it comes to the number of defensive linemen the Bengals will have this season, I've been tossing around the number 10. I'm going to stay with it for now. Perhaps that changes once we get a little closer to training camp, but it seems like that's a good number to see Cincinnati using. It would mean an even split of five ends and five tackles. The ends would include Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry (who will play on the line's interior in certain situations), Will Clarke and Margus Hunt. At tackle, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko and Brandon Thompson would be joined by another two. There's little reason to believe fourth-round draft choice Marcus Hardison won't be on the roster. He seems to have had a decent OTA session, and coaches have lauded his potential. If Hardison makes the cut, it means Devon Still, Pat Sims, Kwame Geathers, Kalafitoni Pole and DeShawn Williams are all battling for the last spot. As veterans of the organization Still, Sims and Geathers likely have the advantage over undrafted rookies Pole and Williams. Sims probably has the advantage on them because of his run-stopping production and the fact he's been active during offseason workouts. It would be yet another highlight in Still's emotional story to make the team one year after the Bengals' goodwill helped him take care of his daughter and become an international voice for pediatric cancer. Since he's been away tending to 5-year-old Leah's needs this offseason, the team truly must wait until training camp to figure out where he stands. The short answer? Yes, Sims has a chance.