Vontaze Burfict headed to bench

If you love football, you love great linebacker play. So it's hard not to love what Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict can do.

He's one of the most talented linebackers in the nation. His physical skills and instincts suggest the true sophomore is a future first-round NFL draft pick. Just go to YouTube and look up some of his highlights.

But now he's headed to the bench for Saturday's game at Washington. Not because of his play but because of how he conducts himself on the field, which is consistently bad.

He's been flagged for numerous personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in his one-plus year as a starter. Almost all of them fall into the "what-is-he-thinking?" category.

The latest, which inspired coach Dennis Erickson to bench Burfict in favor of senior senior Gerald Munns, who's pretty darn good anyway, is the pointless headbutt Burfict delivered to Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz last Saturday during the Sun Devils 31-28 loss.

What best tells the story is seeing Sun Devils linebackers coach Trent Bray ask Burfict through a baffled, angry expression, "Why did you do that?"

That's the million dollar question -- as in, I wish the NFL would mail me the money Burfict is losing with his behavior.

"This has totally to do with Arizona State and our football program and Vontaze," Erickson told The Arizona Republic. "I want him to be the best he can be, and if he learns from this he'll be the best he can be. He's got that issue, and he's going to overcome it and be a successful player here. At this point, if he does that he just can't play."

Burfict almost never talks to the media. The official explanation for this is he doesn't like to do interviews and that he's shy. The unofficial word is that Burfict needs to be protected.

Before benching Burfict, Erickson said on Monday that opponents were "baiting" Burfict. What Erickson's move on Tuesday shows is a realization that Burfict isn't 10-years-old. Trash-talking -- baiting -- is a part of a physical, emotional game. Burfict needs to grow up. Either that, or he needs to drop this loony persona he's adopting because he believes for some reason -- bad advice from outside the team? -- that it creates an attention-getting aura that might in some through-the-looking-glass way help him professionally.

Vontaze, the NFL is a business of winning. The demented gladiator routine is not a part of the process.

Make the play. Share a howl with your teammates. Then shut up and get back in the huddle.

If you do that, you will become an All-American, first-round NFL draft pick and receive all the benefits that includes.

If you don't, five years from now, you'll be showing YouTube clips to your buddies telling them how good you used to be.