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Linebacker Vontaze Burfict emerges as center of Bengals defense, becoming leader in 3rd season

  • Bengals Camp Football-1.jpg

    Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict, left, tackles wide receiver Mohamed Sanu during practice at the NFL football team's training camp, Saturday, July 26, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) (The Associated Press)

  • Bengals Camp Football-2.jpg

    Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (58) talk to a coach during practice at the NFL football team's training camp on Saturday, July 26, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) (The Associated Press)

  • Bengals Camp Football-3.jpg

    Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict stretches with the help of a trainer during the NFL football team's practice at training camp, Friday, July 25, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo) (The Associated Press)

The Bengals are building their defense around linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a sign of how much he means to the franchise as he enters his third season.

The Pro Bowl linebacker is growing into the leader that coach Marvin Lewis has craved.

Burfict signed with the Bengals in 2012 as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State, where his penchant for personal fouls made teams wary.

Last season, he made the Pro Bowl, led the team in tackles and was the AFC's defensive player of the week after an eye-opening game against Cleveland.

When Lewis was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore, he had Ray Lewis leading the unit. He sees Burfict growing into a lead role in Cincinnati.

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Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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