Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said linebacker Vontaze Burfict has "changed" despite being handed a five-game suspension for a controversial hit on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman during the team's second preseason game Aug. 19.
On Tuesday, Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com passed along comments from Lewis, who expressed support for Burfict before the linebacker appealed his case.
"In my opinion Vontaze has changed," Lewis said. "He's learned, he's changed, but in my opinion he's a 250-pound man that hits like a dynamite. It's like getting hit by a cement truck. That's just the way he plays. He's got great hip explosion; that's why he's the player he is. ... The dynamics of his body are such that it's like getting hit by a 300-pound person."
The 26-year-old Arizona State product received a three-game suspension for "repeated violations of safety-related playing rules" in January 2016. The decision came at the end of the 2015 NFL season, during which he received four fines under the same rule umbrella.
Burfict hit Sherman when he was not the intended receiver on a passing play, but Lewis said none of the defenseless receiver rules should have come into effect in that instance. He believes the linebacker holds a strong case to get the suspension reduced or removed, per Terrell.
"Sometimes in interpretation things got lost, and hopefully Vontaze will prevail," Lewis said.
Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer noted the hard-hitting defender also argued his case Tuesday.
"It's within the rules," Burfict said. "You can hit the receiver in five yards—you just can't hit him in the helmet or neck area. I hit him in the chest area. I guess they just have it out for me, I guess. It's whatever."
He also said: "There's nothing I can do now, just appeal it and hopefully games reduced or it gets rescinded. That's what I hope for."
If the decision is upheld, Burfict wouldn't be eligible to return until the Bengals visit Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7. Cincinnati has a bye in Week 6.
Jordan Evans is a likely option to fill the void at weak-side linebacker until the starter returns.