The Cincinnati Bengals activated Vontaze Burfict to the active roster, clearing the way for the veteran linebacker to make his season debut Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
The Bengals cleared a roster spot by placing tight end Tyler Eifert on injured reserve five days after he suffered a gruesome ankle injury in last week’s win at Atlanta.
Burfict missed the first four games while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. He was also suspended to begin the 2016 and 2017 campaigns for violations of the league’s player safety rules.
“I’m happy to be back but I enjoyed the little vacation. Happy to be 3-1,” Burfict told reporters in the team’s locker room Friday. “I think we’re doing a lot of things right. I feel like every game I’ve played in the NFL, it’s always two or three plays on defense — you can’t be perfect the whole game — I feel like we mess up two or three plays a game and it affects us.
“Last year, when we messed up only two or three plays they didn’t score and I would say this year sometimes they’re scoring. So we just got to fix the little minor errors and I think we’ll be all right.”
The 27-year-old Burfict has played 16 games in a season once, when he earned his lone Pro Bowl selection by establishing career highs with 177 tackles and 3.0 sacks.
Despite the fact that he has missed 28 games over the past four seasons, Burfict said one of his biggest impacts on the lineup is as a “vocal leader” of the defense.
“Understanding what’s going to happen, just my little two cents can help,” said Burfict, who praised the intelligence of fellow linebacker Preston Brown. “Two minds is better than one.”
Burfict’s immense talents have been offset by his volatile play on the field. He served a three-game suspension to open the 2017 season for an illegal hit on Kansas City’s Anthony Sherman in an exhibition game.
His most infamous transgression was a hit to the head of Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown in a 2015 wild-card game, resulting in a personal foul that helped the Steelers drive for a game-winning field goal. That led to a three-game ban to start the 2016 season.
Eifert’s injury was the latest physical setback in a star-crossed career. He was taken off the field on a cart after his right ankle twisted in an awkward way when he was dragged to the ground by Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.
An air cast was placed on his lower leg, and Eifert was carted off the field with tears in his eyes.
Eifert has missed 41 games out of a possible 80 in his first five years. He played in just one game in 2014 and only two games in 2017. When he is healthy, Eifert is a reliable scoring threat having caught 21 touchdowns, including a career-high 13 during his 2015 Pro Bowl season.
A first-round pick out of Notre Dame in the 2013 Draft, Eifert has 142 receptions in 43 games.