AFCN Roundup: Long way to go for Burfict

A Bengal linebacker has a long road back after microfracture surgery, and more from around the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict Has “A Long Ways to Go” After Microfracture Surgery

Cincinnati Bengals inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict was one of the most promising players in the 2012 rookie class. After going undrafted thanks to on-the-field concerns about his maturity, Burfict was picked up as a free agent by the Bengals. He went on to lead the team in tackles in his rookie year, with 127, and also had one sack, two fumble recoveries and two passes defensed. In 2013, he led the entire league in tackles, with 171 combined, and had three sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, an interception and six passes defensed. As a result, the Bengals gave him a four-year, $19 million contract extension last August that included $6.904 million in guaranteed money.

Burfict’s 2014 season did not go as planned. He suffered concussions in back-to-back weeks to open 2014, which sidelined him until mid-October. Then, three games later, he suffered a knee injury—one that required two surgeries, the second being a microfracture surgery, a notoriously difficult procedure to recover from. Microfracture surgery entails drilling small fractures into the affected knee in order to spur cartilage growth; sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, and even when it does, the recovery time is more protracted than that of other knee surgeries.

Burfict was on the field for the Bengals’ OTAs on Tuesday, but did not work with the team. Instead, he worked on an adjacent practice field with Nick Cosgray, the team’s rehabilitation director. It’s a sign of progress, to be certain, but all optimism surrounding Burfict’s ability to play this year, let alone Week 1, is still a cautious one. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, speaking with the _Cincinnati Enquirer_’s Paul Dehner Jr., said that “Vontaze will be in rehab all the way through the summer. So, he’s got a long ways to go. He had surgery in January. That’s a surgery that takes a bit.” Dehner noted that Burfict did not do any running and was still walking with a noticeable limp.

There is still hope that Burfict will be ready for the Bengals’ season opener against the Oakland Raiders, but it appears more likely that he will start both training camp and the regular season on the physically unable to perform list. If that is the case heading into the season, he will be forced to the sidelines for at least the first six games. Though, as Lewis notes Burfict is “trying to beat the odds and do it quicker but he’s got a lot of work to do,” he did acknowledge that a protracted recovery time is “part of the injury.” The Bengals would love to have Burfict back for Week 1, but any on-field return at any point this year would be a good sign, simply because it means the risky procedure paid off.

Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Le’Veon Bell Near 100 Percent Health

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ leading rusher in 2014, running back Le’Veon Bell, injured his knee in the team’s regular-season finale, forcing him to miss Pittsburgh’s playoff meeting with the Baltimore Ravens that resulted in a 30–17 loss primarily because he was not on the field. Bell rushed 290 times last year, for 1,361 yards and eight scores. He also caught 83 passes for 844 yards and three more scores, giving him an impressive 2,215 yards from scrimmage on the year. Clearly, his presence against the Ravens would have made a major difference.

Still, Bell was not going to push himself in the playoffs and risk further injury—not when, as he said to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Tuesday, he was at “barely 50 percent” health in January. Now, though, he says he is “close to 100 percent,” which is good news for a Steelers team that desperately needs his services as a runner, receiver and blocker in order to keep their league-leading offense performing at a high level in 2015.

It’s a bittersweet admission, though, with Bell staring down a three-game suspension stemming from a 2014 DUI arrest. The suspension is currently on appeal but “it could be a while,” before he hears the final ruling, says Fowler. Bell spoke with ESPN’s Josina Anderson last week about the suspension and said, “I made a mistake. I’m going to just have to do my time, whatever the final decision may be.” He added, “Marijuana is not an important thing for me. t’s something I easily can set by. If I wanted to do it later on down my life, I’ll enjoy it later on. It’s something that got me in trouble. Football is what I love. I love the game of football and nothing will come to jeopardize that.”

No matter when Bell can finally join his teammates this season, at least the knee that cost him a trip to the playoffs last year will no longer be an issue. And with his marijuana use behind him, Bell should only continue to be an asset to the Steelers.

Baltimore Ravens: Pro Football Focus Ranks Ravens’ Guard Marshal Yanda 2014’s Fifth-Best Player

Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has been ranking the top 101 NFL players of the 2014 season and has named Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Marshal Yanda the league’s fifth-best player. He is the only offensive lineman in their top 13 players this year and only one offensive player, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, ranks higher.

Yanda, the Ravens’ third-round draft pick in 2007, has long been one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen. Pro Football Focus ranked him their top guard in 2014, 15th in 2013, second in 2012 and third in 2011. Last year, Yanda allowed only one sack, five quarterback hits and 10 quarterback hurries on 1,012 snaps played and no other guard came close in his run-blocking ability. His run-blocking grade was +34.2; Mike Iupati came in second with a +18.0 grade.

Yanda, though, is not interested in individual achievements but rather is more concerned with what he can do to help his team. He told ESPN’s Jamison Hensley that, “We’re working hard as a team, and you never… I really don’t read the media. I’m concentrated on what’s going on in this building, and everything else is a distraction that I don’t worry about. I worry about Joe [Flacco]. I worry about our guys. I worry about our team and us moving forward as a group. So, as an individual, no. I just try to do my job and try to be good at my job.”

Yanda, at 30 years old, is entering the final year of a five-year, $32 million contract he signed in July 2011. The Ravens haven’t been very cash-flush the past few years, but it’s not likely they will let Yanda ply his talents elsewhere without first entering into heavy negotiations to keep one of their very best players in the fold for at least another five years.

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