INDIANAPOLIS – Say hello to the supposed bad guy. His name is Vontaze Burfict.
He’s the intimidating, hard-hitting Arizona State junior middle linebacker with the damaged reputation, one he’s intent on rebuilding through words and deeds.
Burfict arrived at the NFL scouting combine with a lot to prove, and an accompanying chip on his shoulder about how he’s perceived.
“I just want to let the press know that I’m not the guy that everybody assumes that I am,” Burfict said. “I’m a soft-spoken guy, shy. But when I’m on the field, I just hate to lose and I have aggression to win.
"I heard that I’m not coachable at times. I think that’s probably my pride and joy. I love being coached. I want to be better. Hopefully, I’ll be in the Hall of Fame one day."
A first-team All-American selection as a sophomore, Burfict was once benched for his reckless style on the football field that drew 17 personal fouls.
The 6-foot-3, 248-pounder also infamously brawled with a teammate in the locker room and left the Sun Devils program after not even making all-conference as a junior.
NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said he wouldn’t draft Burfict in the first round, saying he has serious questions about his attitude and play.
Call him an underachiever. Call him a poor teammate. Call him selfish. Call him out of control.
And Burfict swears you’re wrong.
Burfict insists he’s misunderstood, and he expects the NFL to accept him and his rough around the edges style.
“I’m pretty sure they know who I am now because I met with a couple of general managers,” Burfict said. “They kind of know who I am now.”
Burfict met with Baltimore Ravens team officials at the combine, facing some tough questions about his actions.
He hopes that he left them with enough assurances that they’ll draft him to play alongside his idol: Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
“That would be awesome, he’s my role model,” Burfict said. “I really feel like I could take my game to the next level especially learning from him. It could mean a lot. He can help me in the film room, things that I’m not great in. Just running to the ball, full speed. I’ve watched him and he never takes plays off. You can learn a lot from him.”
The Ravens and their 29th overall pick of the first round were once linked to Burfict. That has changed, though.
Now, he’s being predicted to go in the second round or even as late as the third.
Perhaps the Ravens will take a chance on him provided they feel good about the risks and rewards involved with a player with a flawed reputation.
An NFC scout told 24×7 that Burfict is obviously talented and passionate about the game, but expressed concern about the extra things that go along with the California native’s ability to blitz and deck running backs.
“There’s a lot of inconsistency,” the scout said. “I’ve seen film where he’ll be making plays and he’ll flash, and then he’ll take plays off and it doesn’t look like he’s hustling or in tune with his teammates. There’s a lot of questions for him to answer.”
Burfict once punched a wide receiver in the Sun Devils’ locker room.
It’s an incident he regrets.
Burfict said the receiver angered him by crashing into him during a passing drill.
“We’re not supposed to hit each other in seven-on-seven,” Burfict said. “We had an argument, and we brought it into the locker room. We started chattering about it. He started rough-housing me. He pushed me, and my first instinct was to swing. And everyone thinks I’m the bad guy because my first instinct was to swing on the guy.”
Burfict said he wishes it had never happened, but emphasized that he’s maturing.
He said he’s being counseled by Buffalo Bills veteran linebacker Nick Barnett.
“I have been working on what I can do in the locker room and off the field because I know this is a business now,” Burfict said. “There are things you can’t do in business.”
On Oct. 6, 2010, Burfict got benched against Stanford by coach Dennis Erickson.
Burfict was flagged for grabbing the facemask of Doug Baldwin. Then, he compounded the problem by complaining to the referee and getting a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct that gave Stanford a first down deep in Arizona State territory.
Two plays later, Stanford scored the game-winning touchdown.
Toward his goal of becoming a better football player, Burfict has dropped weight and is down from 260 pounds to 248 pounds.
Seemingly sluggish at times on the field, Burfict’s play and production dropped significantly last fall.
As a sophomore, he became the Sun Devils’ first defensive All-American since Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
He led the team with 90 tackles, eight for losses, and forced two fumbles.
Last season, he dropped to 69 tackles while also registering five sacks and one interception.
“I played average,” Burfict said. “I could’ve played better. That’s what hurt me at times. The coaches kind of messed me up. I didn’t know if I would start a game or be benched. It hurt me, but I tried to fight through it.”
Can the NFL count on him?
“I think I’ll come and change the whole atmosphere,” Burfict said. “I’m a leader and I’ll bring aggression to the game and the whole side of the defense.”
Burfict was often shielded from the press in college due to his various controversies.
“Sometimes, I did a written interview and the things I said didn’t really come out as I said it,” Burfict said. “I just thought it was best for me not to do any interviews because people were putting words in my mouth and putting me as a bad guy.”
So, who is Vontaze Burfict?
That’s what the NFL is trying to figure out.
To him, it’s simple.
“I just love to hit," Burfict said. "I hate to lose. I just know I’m the best linebacker in this draft. I know I can get the job done.”
NOTES: Among the players the Ravens met with at the scouting combine: Alabama safety Mark Barron, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith and Presbyterian defensive back Justin Bethel.