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Vontaze Burfict embracing opportunity with Cincinnati Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Vontaze Burfict swooped in from his middle linebacker spot and closed on the ball carrier, then quickly pulled up to avoid any contact. He was practicing the thing he needs to improve upon most.

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No cheap shots. No late hits. No losing control.

The linebacker from Arizona State wasn't selected in the NFL draft last month, in large part because of the way he plays. He repeatedly was penalized for personal fouls in college, despite his coaches' insistence that he change. He also did poorly at the NFL Scouting Combine drills, marking himself a huge risk.

One cheap shot, and he could be gone. And he knows it.

"Yeah, that's what I practiced on today," Burfict said Friday, after the first workout of the Bengals' rookie minicamp. "We didn't have any pads on. You've got to be disciplined today. You have chances to hit somebody, but you let up. It just comes with practice."

The Bengals are known for taking chances on players with trouble in their college careers. They took Chris Henry in the third round in 2005, despite his troubles at West Virginia. In recent years, they've slightly changed their approach, signing troubled players to low-risk deals.

Burfict fits the pattern.

He was the Pac-10 defensive freshman of the year, starting nine games at middle linebacker. He quickly amassed a history of personal fouls -- more than a dozen in his career, including a 2010 game in which he head-butted Oregon State's Ryan Katz after the quarterback got up from a tackle and headed back to the huddle.

Last season, Burfict led the Sun Devils in sacks but was benched in the second half of a game after getting two personal fouls.

Burfict's poor performance at the combine sealed his reputation. He wrote NFL teams a letter giving his side of the situation, and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis showed an interest.

Lewis called him after the seventh round of the draft was completed and Burfict was still available.

"Not being picked, going undrafted -- I have a big chip on my shoulder," Burfict said. "And I'm ready to hit somebody."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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