There are a handful of players every year in the NFL draft pool that have question marks on them concerning their character. The 2012 draft class is no different. Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict doesn't have drug problems or run-ins with the law. His problem is a short fuse and a style of play that at times has gotten him benched. It’s led to numerous personal fouls and even a fight with a teammate. That’s why Burfict has reached out to a veteran Bills linebacker for help.
“I’ve been helping him realize the game is bigger than him,” Barnett told Buffalobills.com. “You can’t let your emotions get in the way of the greater goal.”
The goal being a lengthy and successful NFL career. Burfict led the Sun Devils in tackles each of his last two seasons and earned 2nd-Team All-Pac 10 honors in 2010. His overly aggressive style of play however, likely damaged his reputation in the conference as he received no honors in 2011.
“I think some of the attention with all the penalties and issues are a little too much,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.
Burfict was flagged for personal fouls, including a pair in the regular season finale this past season against Cal, getting him a seat on the bench for the second half of the game. He also was benched for the team’s bowl game. Though the linebacker felt like a bit of a marked man this past season, he owned up to his actions at the Combine.
“I was aggressive at times,” he said. “I just love to hit and just hate to lose.”
His actions on the field have been labeled immature at times. Burfict emotions have even gotten the best of him with a teammate after practice.
“It started in 7-on-7 and he was running a route and he hit me,” recalled Burfict. “We’re not supposed to hit each other in 7-on-7. He hit me and we had an argument and we took it into the locker room. We started chatting about it and he started rough housing me and he pushed me and my first instinct was to swing at him. Everybody thinks I’m a bad person, because my instinct was to swing at a guy.”
As a result the range on where Burfict could go in the draft range from late round one to round three.
Burfict insists he’s a soft-spoken guy, but he detests losing so much that his "aggression comes out." That being said the linebacker prospect knows NFL clubs aren’t going to be bothered with a player that can’t keep his cool and handing opponents a free 15 yards.
“The locker room fight I learned from it,” he said. “I’ve been working with Nick Barnett. He and I have been working on things I can do in the locker room and off the field because this is a business now and there are things you cannot do in business.”
Barnett has also been working with Burfict in the film room a bit in addition to giving him counsel.
“He’s just been giving me advice about things I can do on and off the field,” said Burfict. “It’s not college anymore and I’m an individual working for my coach and my teammates. He’s teaching me how to take care of my business and not do any of the dumb things that I did in college.”
Barnett even shared a situation of hiw own with Burfict. Back in 2007 Barnett got in a bit of hot water when he was drawn into an altercation at a night club during his time in Green Bay. He was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but it effectively delivered the message to a young prospect that is eager to prove he’s coachable and a team player.
“I’m taking all the advice that he’s given to me and running with it,” said Burfict. “I just want to let everyone know that I’m not the player they assume that I am. It’s the wrong picture.”