Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 5/12/12
CINCINNATI - In this age of the Internet, text-messaging and instant communication, it seems especially strange that Vontaze Burfict took the old-fashioned route -- he wrote a letter -- to contact almost every head coach and general manager in the NFL in the leadup to last month's NFL Draft. He knew the instant information on him wasn't good. He just wanted a chance. This weekend, through circumstances he never envisioned, he's getting it. Burfict went from All-American to All-Toxic and went undrafted. He signed with the Bengals after the draft -- his letter was well received in at least one place -- and expressed as much relief as excitement this weekend in getting the NFL start he's been seeking at the Bengals' rookie minicamp. "It's about time," Burfict said. "I'm ready to put some pads on. The combine wasn't too good for me. To finally be in a defense and know where I'm playing is just wonderful and I'm blessed." It's a rare case, to say the least, when an undrafted player might be the most recognizable player in a rookie minicamp. That's not by Burfict's choice, of course, but his braids still stick out of his helmet and the big, violent hits that made him a TV darling also got him labeled a risk. In his last 26 games at Arizona State, Burfict was hit with 16 personal foul penalties. Concerns about his discipline and attitude spread through NFL scouting circles, and after he ran a 5.09 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine he was regarded less as big-hitting linebacker prospect and more as too short, too heavy at around 260, and too slow to play linebacker in today's NFL. "Not being picked, going undrafted, I have a big chip on my shoulder," Burfict said. "I'm ready to hit somebody." Between the whistles, of course. The Bengals have never been afraid of players with baggage, and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis personally answered Burfict's letter. Lewis met with Burfict when the coach traveled to Arizona for a family commitment, and as the draft wound down Lewis called both Burfict and Burfict's agent, offering a bit of moral support and, ultimately, the invitation to sign with the Bengals. This weekend is just the first step in Burfict having the NFL career he envisioned during his three years as a tackling machine (228 in three years, 22.5 tackles for loss) and lightning rod at Arizona State. He's back at around 250 pounds, and in Cincinnati he's getting the fresh start he admits he needed. He'll join the Bengals' offseason conditioning program starting Monday, and over the next four weeks he'll get a chance to work towards earning a backup linebacker job and a roster spot. Vontaze had a good start to things," Lewis said Friday. "Hes obviously, for whatever reasons, become such a big story. The biggest thing for him is that hes getting an opportunity here to prove he can make an NFL football team. Regardless of that, thats the most important thing for him. (He's had) a good start to it. That new start is what Burfict is focused on. Asked about his personal fouls and why he racked up so many of them he said, "I don't know. What happened in my past is behind me. If I talk about what happened at Arizona State, it's not going to make the Bengals any better. So I'll just leave that alone." He said the biggest misconception is that he's been in trouble off the field; he's never been arrested, he said, though he's read on the Internet accounts of him supposedly starting fights or trouble at bars or parties. "I wasn't even there," he said. Burfict said the difference between now and a year ago, when headlines called him "an enigma" and "The Meanest Man in College Football," is that now he is "more mature, grown up as a man and I take care of my responsibilities. Going undrafted was a shock, but he's taking it as a wake up call. And he's taking every word from his new coach as his ticket to getting his football career back on track. "I can play anything that Marvin Lewis wants me to play, to tell you the truth," he said. "I'm just excited. Now I'm on to trying to get the Bengals better."
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