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Friday, November 29, 2013
Practice injury has Burfict questionable

By Coley Harvey

CINCINNATI -- The NFL's leading tackler could be missing in action this weekend due to an injury he suffered in practice Friday afternoon.

Vontaze Burfict, the Cincinnati Bengals' fiery defensive playmaker, suffered an ankle injury during the team's final walkthrough of the week. As a result of the tweak, he was limited in the workout and was listed as questionable on the subsequent injury report the Bengals provided.

Burfict entered the week leading the league in tackles with 118. In Cincinnati's previous game two weeks ago, he was arguably the defensive MVP, coming away with a game-high 15 tackles and forcing a fumble and recovering it for a touchdown.

The second-year player out of Arizona State has been the Bengals' starting Will linebacker all season. It has been his responsibility much of the year to make most of the defensive line play calls and to help set the rest of the defense on individual plays. His value has been tremendous in what should be a Pro Bowl year.

If the Bengals had to pick a time when they would rather he miss a game, though, now would be it. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is returning this week from a knee injury suffered at the end of October, and backup Vincent Rey has been playing some of the best football on the team in the plast three weeks filling in for Maualuga. Rey likely would be moved into Burfict's spot if any changes have to be made to the lineup.

That being said, though, there still is a strong chance that no lineup changes will be necessary. Burfict has played through minor injuries all season, often remaining in ballgames after previously coming off the field due to rather hard shots that have been related to his comparatively reckless play.

Put it this way: it might take an executive order to keep Burfict from playing later this weekend.

Had it not been for the Friday injury, the Bengals would have been true to coach Marvin Lewis' prognostication earlier this week, and come into their important AFC game this weekend operating quite close to full strength. They would have, at worst, been one player shy of it.

Of course, "full strength" is a relative term for a team that has dealt with four key season-ending injuries throughout the year. Among the players the Bengals do currently have, this is the healthiest they have been in several weeks.

Only right offensive guard Kevin Zeitler missed Friday's late-morning walkthrough. He was listed as out with a foot injury on the Friday injury report. It means Mike Pollak will be making his second consecutive start Sunday afternoon. In Cincinnati's 41-20 win over the Cleveland Browns in the Bengals' previous game two weeks ago, Pollak started for the first time since 2011.

In addition to Burfict and Zeitler, six other players were listed as probable on the injury report. Two of them -- Maualuga and defensive tackle Devon Still -- are coming back from injuries that forced them to miss all of November and part of October. Punter Kevin Huber also was among the probables. Despite practicing in a limited capacity Friday, he is expected to play Sunday, as well.

Here is the complete Bengals injury report for Friday:

OUT
OG Kevin Zeitler (foot)

QUESTIONABLE
LB Vontaze Burfict (ankle)

PROBABLE
LB Michael Boley (shoulder)
S Chris Crocker (hamstring)
P Kevin Huber (left ankle)
LB Rey Maualuga (knee)
DT Devon Still (elbow)
WR Brandon Tate (ankle; did not practice)