Vontaze Burfict, Preston Brown have short time to work on chemistry

CINCINNATI -- Linebackers Preston Brown and Vontaze Burfict have had only one week of training camp to play next to each other, but it's clear that they've started to jell during the limited time frame -- at least on the field.

Just don't ask them to play video games together.

"I tried to play 'Fornite' with Tez a couple of times, and he gets mad because I'm not good," Brown said, cracking a smile. "So I just kind of hide to the side and wait until we win. I haven't played with him in like a month now."

When it comes to the game that's currently holding the obsession of most of the team, Brown is the odd man out. But ever since the Cincinnati native signed with the Bengals in March, he has been all-in on everything else.

While walking back to the locker room on Saturday during a temporary break in practice due to lightning, Brown was asked by a fan to sign a picture.

He glanced at the picture of himself in a Bills uniform.

"I'm not signing a Buffalo picture!" Brown said, before the fan responded that it was the only picture he could find. Brown, smiling, walked over and gave in, signing his name on the photo.

For the team to get back to the playoffs, it's paramount that Brown and Burfict build their chemistry. Brown is the Bengals' third middle linebacker in three years, and it's a position they've been weak at for a while. Considering the physical similarities between Burfict and Brown, they already are finding things in common.

Brown is coming off a season in which he led the league with 144 combined tackles. Burfict held that distinction in 2013, when he had 171 combined tackles. Both are on the larger side for linebackers, weighing around 250 pounds.

"It's crazy for two linebackers to be 250 and runnin'," Burfict said.

But similarities only go so far when they have a limited amount of time to get things right. Burfict missed the first part of camp while he was on the non-football injury list and might not play in a preseason game despite his desire to get back on the field.

Burfict admitted it's important for him to play but knows that decision ultimately isn't up to him, especially because he will be sitting out the first four games of the season due to a violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing-drug policy. He was held out of the first preseason game against the Bears last Thursday after returning to practice on Monday, and coach Marvin Lewis hasn't said if he plans to play Burfict in the remaining three games.

That means Brown will be trying to establish chemistry with Burfict even though he'll spend the first month of the regular season playing next to Jordan Evans or Vincent Rey at the weakside position. Burfict won't be allowed at the facility while he serves his suspension, so they have to make the most of their time together now.

Although Brown wasn't on the team in 2017, Burfict seemed to think establishing that chemistry will work just fine under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

"I feel like this year, a lot of guys are really getting along. Everyone is talking," Burfict said. "There are not different groups that don't hang out with each other. Everybody is honestly in the same circle, and we're close this year. That will help us in the long run this year, being close to each other. It [will] hinder us from doing finger-pointing when somebody messes up. It will be more like, 'Come on, let's get it right next time.'"

Brown has clearly fit right into that group so far from Burfict's point of view, especially after he was able to lean on him during the first day of practice. Burfict admitted he wasn't going to be the "Energizer Bunny" on his first few days back while he worked himself into football shape, and Brown was there to pick him up.

"There were some plays that I was kind of unsure of, and he helped me. I think it's going to work out pretty good. He was the leading tackler, I think last year, and he's a good communicator, so I think in the long run, it's going to help us. I'm excited to play with him," Burfict said.

Meanwhile, Brown raved about Burfict's instincts on the field, noting that he enjoyed playing with someone who had his football mind.

"It's just fun," Brown said. "He's so smart out there on the field. He's like another coach out there. He's always talking and communicating."

Brown said the difference in playing next to Burfict is that the smartest players on the field aren't necessarily the most athletic. While intelligent guys can get by due to their football mind, he thinks Burfict has it all.

Even if he never seems to stop talking.

"He's always talking," Brown said. "Talking trash. Talking about formations. Always talking."

Will the two players make each other better?

"Hell yeah," Burfict said without hesitation. "I will help Preston, and Preston will help me. And I'll help Nick [Vigil]. Nick will help ... you know, it's just going to be back and forth. Like I said, we're both 250. Nick is the fast guy of the group. We all can scheme off of each other and guide enough plays and talk to each other and understand what's coming before it comes."