Burfict back at practice with Bengals as suspension ends
CINCINNATI (AP) — Bengals coach Marvin Lewis knew that linebacker Vontaze Burfict was back when he felt his feet leave the floor.
Burfict, who has been suspended repeatedly in his career, rejoined the team after completing a four-game ban for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancers. He made quite an entrance.
"When he came up from behind and picked me up off the floor on Monday, I knew it could only be one person," Lewis said Wednesday. "I guess it's time to wrestle with the bear again."
The Miami Dolphins (3-1) get to wrestle him next.
Burfict practiced on Wednesday and is expected to play on Sunday when the Bengals (3-1) try to get their defense in order with their most notable player back in place. It's the fourth straight season that Burfict has sat out because of injury or suspension.
Cincinnati is off to its best start since 2015 in spite of a defense that ranks 29th in yards allowed and has given up the 10th-most points in the league.
Atlanta piled up 495 yards — Matt Ryan threw for 419 and three touchdowns — but the Bengals pulled out a 37-36 win on Andy Dalton's touchdown pass with 7 seconds left .
The Bengals' defense is last in the league on third down, allowing opponents to convert 57 percent.
"We need to get a lot better," linebacker Preston Brown said. "Hopefully Tez can help us make that leap."
Burfict hasn't lined up for a snap this year. He had an ankle injury that limited him during training camp, and he sat out all four preseason games before leaving the team for a month to serve his suspension.
Temperatures in the mid-80s are forecast for Paul Brown Stadium, which also will affect Burfict's stamina.
"He needs to come in and take his time," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "It's going to be totally different from training (camp). You're going to burn out faster."
In the past three seasons, he's played significant snaps in his first game back.
— In 2015, he missed the first six games while recovering from knee surgery and was on the field for 36 plays during a 16-10 win at Pittsburgh, getting five tackles. His tackle on Le'Veon Bell tore the running back's knee.
— In 2016, he missed the first three games on an NFL suspension for egregious hits and played 34 snaps during a 22-7 win over the Dolphins, getting three tackles and knocking down one pass.
— Last year, he missed the first three games while serving another NFL suspension for an egregious preseason hit and played 52 snaps during a 31-7 win at Cleveland, getting six tackles — second on the team.
The Bengals think he'll improve the defense for however many plays he can manage on Sunday.
"His natural knack for the ball — that's one of the rare things," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "Everybody doesn't have that. You can have a bookworm and he still doesn't have a knack for the ball. That's one of the things he had coming in."
Brown signed with the Bengals in the offseason and got to practice with him in training camp. Burfict turned out to be exactly what Brown expected.
"I knew he was crazy, knew he was smart," Brown said. "He checked all the boxes on what I thought he was."
MIXON BACK AT PRACTICE: Running back Joe Mixon had a limited practice Wednesday. He's missed the past two games following arthroscopic surgery to remove a piece of cartilage from his right knee. Running back Giovani Bernard sat out practice with a sore knee, so it would be beneficial if Mixon made it through practice this week without an issue.
"I am just hoping that they put me out there but if not, I'll be ready for Pittsburgh for sure," Mixon said.
Brown (shoulder), defensive end Michael Johnson (knee), receiver John Ross (groin) and offensive guard Alex Redmond (shoulder) were limited in practice. Tight end Tyler Eifert is still on the roster even though he suffered a broken right ankle Sunday and had surgery.
PRICE NOT CLOSE: Rookie center Billy Price said Wednesday that he's been told to wear a protective boot on his right foot for two more weeks, and then he'll be evaluated. Price sat out the past two games with a partially torn ligament in the foot. Doctors want it fully healed before he does anything strenuous.
"They're being extra cautious right now," Price said. "If I do end up popping this ligament, it's a four-month rehab."
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