The Raiders are over the moon Vontaze Burfict is now wearing silver and black. Yes, even receiver Antonio Brown is cool with it. The veterans have squashed a once bitter rivalry, saying so repeatedly on social media since becoming teammates in March.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther fought hard to bring his former field general to Oakland following a productive relationship in Cincinnati, and now the entire defense is benefitting from Burfict’s detailed working knowledge of this scheme.
That’s crystal clear during the offseason program, where new guy Burfict has become a welcome resource to a revamped crew trying to form one cohesive unit.
“It helps a lot having a guy that is extremely familiar with the scheme for the most part of his career,” Raiders weakside linebacker Tahir Whitehead said following Tuesday’s OTA session. “Six years he was in the system. Being in the system for that length of time, you know the nuances of the defense and all of the checks, all of the calls and just having Vontaze has definitely been a huge help.”
It certainly lessens Whitehead’s burden. He was the only veteran linebacker at last season’s end, working with young players all expected to be backups in 2019. He made on-field check and adjustments while playing virtually every defensive snap.
Burfict will play middle linebacker here and take over the pre-snap work while looking to rebound from an injury-riddled 2018 season. Burfict’s only 28 years old and believes several quality years remain ahead. He doesn’t, however, believe he has anything to show on his one-year “prove-it” deal.
“Nah, that’s putting stress on your shoulders,” Burfict said. “I’ve been playing for eight years now, just come out and do my job, execute and try to win games. That’s about it.”
Having Burfict in-house takes stress off Guenther, and allows him to open up the playbook. There’s faith that Burfict can flawlessly execute whatever is called, no matter how many reads and adjustments are required.
“It’s like having a quarterback that you’ve coached in there so you can get in and out of calls at the line of scrimmage,” Guenther said. “Last year we didn’t do that as much. We did it a few times and I just felt like it was a lot for the guys in the first year of the system to put that added weight on them. I wanted them to kind of go out and play.
"Now in year two, add in a guy like him and having another year under the system, the guys will pick it up a lot faster.”
Burfict is a particularly valuable resource in a scheme that takes some time to master. That’s why he’s so integral to this offseason program, when new players are working in at every level of this defense.
“This defense is kind of complicated, honestly,” Burfict said. “You can’t come in first year thinking you know it all because honestly it takes 11 pieces, but yeah I saw that when I was watching them last year. We have guys that have been with the defense now going into their second year, so you can tell that a lot of guys are picking it up, communicating.”
Guenther estimates that Burfict knew 80 percent of the defensive scheme walking through the door. The respected defensive coordinator made some changes and added plays this offseason focused on playing to this group’s strengths while trying to shore up issues that plagued the Raiders last season.
Burfict was comfortable with past scheme knowledge, claiming to be a Raiders defensive expert on experience with Guenther alone. He went back and watched last year’s game tape, as cringe-worthy as that might’ve been considering the Raiders had a non-existent pass rush and were dead last in points allowed.
Burfict didn’t come away thinking the defense needed an edge. It needs improved and disciplined execution within in the scheme, more than anything else to enhance playmaking ability. The Raiders believe Burfict is already helping in that endeavor during the offseason program.
“He’s definitely a tone setter,” Raiders defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “He’s someone that’s going to set the defense. He understands all of the calls within Coach Guenther’s defense, so it’s really helpful to talk with him.
"He has complete understanding, so there’s certain things that he knows that are going to occur during the course of a season, so he’s able to adjust it, adjust us, tell us we can play a backside gap on this, he’ll cover us, or whatever. He’s real easy to talk to and just a great teammate overall.”