NCF Nation: Gerald Munns

Vontaze Burfict headed to bench

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
11:56
AM ET
If you love football, you love great linebacker play. So it's hard not to love what Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict can do.

He's one of the most talented linebackers in the nation. His physical skills and instincts suggest the true sophomore is a future first-round NFL draft pick. Just go to YouTube and look up some of his highlights.

But now he's headed to the bench for Saturday's game at Washington. Not because of his play but because of how he conducts himself on the field, which is consistently bad.

He's been flagged for numerous personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in his one-plus year as a starter. Almost all of them fall into the "what-is-he-thinking?" category.

The latest, which inspired coach Dennis Erickson to bench Burfict in favor of senior senior Gerald Munns, who's pretty darn good anyway, is the pointless headbutt Burfict delivered to Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz last Saturday during the Sun Devils 31-28 loss.

What best tells the story is seeing Sun Devils linebackers coach Trent Bray ask Burfict through a baffled, angry expression, "Why did you do that?"

That's the million dollar question -- as in, I wish the NFL would mail me the money Burfict is losing with his behavior.

"This has totally to do with Arizona State and our football program and Vontaze," Erickson told The Arizona Republic. "I want him to be the best he can be, and if he learns from this he'll be the best he can be. He's got that issue, and he's going to overcome it and be a successful player here. At this point, if he does that he just can't play."

Burfict almost never talks to the media. The official explanation for this is he doesn't like to do interviews and that he's shy. The unofficial word is that Burfict needs to be protected.

Before benching Burfict, Erickson said on Monday that opponents were "baiting" Burfict. What Erickson's move on Tuesday shows is a realization that Burfict isn't 10-years-old. Trash-talking -- baiting -- is a part of a physical, emotional game. Burfict needs to grow up. Either that, or he needs to drop this loony persona he's adopting because he believes for some reason -- bad advice from outside the team? -- that it creates an attention-getting aura that might in some through-the-looking-glass way help him professionally.

Vontaze, the NFL is a business of winning. The demented gladiator routine is not a part of the process.

Make the play. Share a howl with your teammates. Then shut up and get back in the huddle.

If you do that, you will become an All-American, first-round NFL draft pick and receive all the benefits that includes.

If you don't, five years from now, you'll be showing YouTube clips to your buddies telling them how good you used to be.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.

Sometimes those questions don't get answered. Other times they do.

Such as ...

Arizona: The Wildcats lost two of their three starting linebackers, but coach Mike Stoops said he believes they will be better at the position in 2009, with junior Vuna Tuihalamaka making a special impression in the middle this spring.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost middle linebacker Morris Wooten, but the LB position looks like it could run six-deep in 2009, particularly with the expected arrival of super-recruit Vontaze Burfict in the fall. The return of former starter Gerald Munns, who left the team for personal reasons, helps as does the emergence of young players whose speed upgrades are intriguing.

California: Not to get stuck on a linebacker theme, but most previews of the Bears will raise questions about them losing three longtime starters at linebacker. Hanging around this spring, however, you get the feeling this position will be fine. In fact, a couple of touted incoming JC transfers will make the fall competition intense. Look for Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks to make a play for All-Conference honors.

Oregon: The Ducks lost three of four starting defensive linemen, including end Nick Reed, so this seemed like as big a question mark as the offensive line entering spring. Apparently not, at least according to coach Chip Kelly. Will Tukuafu should emerge from Reed's shadow as one of the conference's best ends, and tackle Brandon Bair and end Kenny Rowe stepped up. There's still competition at one tackle, but the Ducks' recruiting class included six defensive linemen, at least a couple of whom figure to see action.

Oregon State: The Beavers lost receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, but by the end of spring that didn't seem like a problem, even with James Rodgers sitting out with a shoulder injury. Junior Darrell Catchings broke through and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop lived up to high expectations and others flashed potential.

Stanford: The passing game -- on offense and defense -- has been a problem for Stanford. For the offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck was just short of spectacular this spring. For the defense, the insertion of Delano Howell at strong safety and Michael Thomas at cornerback upgrades the secondary's athleticism.

UCLA: The secondary began spring needing two new starters, but a handful of guys stepped up to complement cornerback Alterraun Verner and free safety Rahim Moore. While Aaron Hester and Glenn Love are the favorites to start at corner and strong safety, respectively, sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods will get extended looks in the fall.

USC: Lose three elite linebackers? Find three more. Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan might not have the experience or pedigree of their predecessors, but they are faster and may end up being nearly as good.

Washington: A lot was made of how well quarterback Jake Locker adjusted to a pro-style offense this spring -- and rightfully so -- but that pro-style passing attack needs targets, so perhaps that part of the pass-catch equation is being undersold. D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar give the Huskies three respectable receivers, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki are solid.

Washington State: One area where the Cougars have quality starters and quality depth is running back, with Dwight Tardy stepping up to the challenge of California transfer James Montgomery this spring, and Logwone Mitz and 220-pound Marcus Richmond adding depth.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A look inside the Pac-10 this week.

Arizona State: Sun Devils fans cringing at the defensive performance against UNLV, particularly the 18-play, 88-yard drive in the fourth quarter for the game-tying field goal, will be glad to hear the defense will restock a bit with Georgia coming to town. First, middle linebacker Gerald Munns, whose physical performance against Stanford earned him conference defensive player of the week honors a week ago, returns after surgery on his pinkie finger, though he's going to sport a cast for about five weeks. Also, the Sun Devils welcomed back LB Morris Wooten and DE Jamarr Robinson, who both return from suspensions for undisclosed reasons. Wooten, a 245-pound senior, will add a physical presence behind Munns, while Robinson, a 233-pound sophomore, had three sacks in the spring game and will add another athletic threat on the perimeter.

Oregon: Forget for a second that that Oregon's QB position will be split between a pair of first-year players in JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli and true freshman Chris Harper against Boise State. Both of those guys have seen action at home and on the road. With starter Justin Roper sidelined for at least one game, their holy-cow-this-is-D-I-football jitters are mostly gone. The more interesting matchup here is the Broncos redshirt freshman QB Kellen Moore vs. the Ducks defense, which boasts one of the nation's best secondaries. Oh, and that little thing known as the chummy Autzen Stadium crowd. Moore is making his first start on the road. At Autzen. Not easy. Moreover, with four new offensive line starters, it won't be easy to rely on veteran RB Ian Johnson. Boise State only gained 340 yards at home last weekend in a 20-7 win over Bowling Green.

Arizona: After two games, Arizona QB Willie Tuitama was 11th in the nation in pass efficiency with five TDs and no INTs. But after the loss at New Mexico, his rating dropped 30 points because he threw a pair of picks and barely completed 50 percent of his passes. He also was sacked three times and fumbled twice against the Lobos. Two words: Bad night. So how will the senior bounce back at UCLA? The good news is he's getting a huge target back because TE Rob Gronkowski will play for the first time this season since he got sick (strep throat, mono). BYU QB Max Hall made the supposedly stout UCLA defense look like warm butter; can Tuitama regain his confidence and do the same?

UCLA: Remember how the media pounded home the questions about UCLA's offensive line during the preseason? Well, score one for reporters because we were right: This is a lousy O-line. Look no further than the rushing attack: Worst in the nation with 19 yards per game and 0.8 per carry. Longest run of the season? Seven yards. Yuck. Oh, and here's some more bad news. Center Micah Reed, one of two starters with significant experience, will be out two to four weeks with a partial tear of his MCL. The Bruins are scrambling for answers on offense, which includes trying a variety of combinations up front during a time when most teams are trying to create continuity with the same starting five. The visit from Arizona probably will go a long way toward answering this question: Was the Tennessee game a total fluke?

USC: So USC loses a pair of defensive linemen to the first round of the NFL draft -- Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson -- and then, nonetheless, turns in a pair of dominant performances to start the season. How do the Trojans do it? Well, depth of course. And look no further than the ledger from the 35-3 win over Ohio State. It wasn't just tackle Fili Moala and company whipping the Ohio State offensive line; it also was three true freshmen: tackle Armond Armstead, who recorded a sack, nose tackle Jurrell Casey and end Malik Jackson. That's the future D-line. The present, by the way, had five total sacks and 24 tackles against the Buckeyes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Leaving the Bay for the Desert today... 

SPONSORED HEADLINES