CINCINNATI — Coach Marvin Lewis defended the hit by Vontaze Burfict that caused the NFL to suspend him for five games and insisted that the Bengals linebacker has changed his ways on the field to conform to the league’s emphasis on player safety.

Lewis said there’s nothing wrong with how Burfict leveled Chiefs running back Anthony Sherman during a preseason game, resulting in the linebacker’s latest suspension.

“In my opinion, Vontaze has changed,” Lewis said Tuesday. “He’s learned. He’s a 250-pound man, but he hits like dynamite. I mean, it’s like being hit by a cement truck. That’s just the way he plays. That’s why he’s the player he is.”

The hit wasn’t penalized during the game, but the NFL can impose fines and suspensions after reviewing video of games.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy pointed out in an email to The Associated Press that the league’s rulebook bans “unnecessary contact” against players who aren’t in position to defend themselves. Also, the rules prohibit “unnecessary roughness” against a player who isn’t involved in a play.

Sherman was coming out of the backfield but wasn’t the intended receiver when Burfict leveled him with a hit high to his chest as the pass went down the field.

Burfict has appealed the suspension. If it’s upheld, the Bengals will open without their top defensive player for the second straight season because of an egregious hit. Burfict missed the first three games last season while serving an NFL suspension for his hit to Antonio Brown’s head during a 2015 playoff loss to the Steelers.

The league cited Burfict’s history of egregious hits when it suspended him for last season. He came into the NFL with a reputation for losing his cool in the heat of the moment. The playmaker went undrafted in 2012 because of his long history of on-field issues at Arizona State.

He repeatedly got personal fouls in his early seasons in Cincinnati, despite the coaching staff urging him to change the way he plays. His worst moment came in the Bengals’ first-round playoff game against the Steelers in the 2015 season.

Burfict hit Brown in the head after an incomplete pass, moving the Steelers in range for a game-winning field goal. Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones bumped an official during an on-field verbal altercation after Burfict’s hit, drawing another 15-yard penalty.

The Steelers made a 26-yard field goal with 14 seconds left for an 18-16 win, taking advantage of one of the greatest meltdowns in NFL playoff history. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, the sixth-longest streak of futility in league history.

Jones also is suspended to start the season, getting sidelined for one game because of his offseason conviction on a misdemeanor charge.

The Bengals went 1-2 during Burfict’s three-game suspension last season, losing in Pittsburgh and at home to Denver. Vincent Rey filled in for those three games at Burfict’s spot and is expected to do so again.

“Coach Paulie (Guenther) says, ‘Who’s a starter in here?’ and the whole defense stands up,” Rey said. “He’s always saying everybody has to be ready. Someone’s going to have to play meaningful snaps for us.”

NOTES: RB Cedric Peerman went on the injured reserve list because of a shoulder injury suffered Sunday during a game in Washington. Peerman is the Bengals’ top special teams player. Last year, he broke a forearm during a preseason game and missed the first 10 games. … Rookie S Brandon Wilson was cleared to return to practice. He missed all of camp with a non-football injury. … The Bengals traded LB Marquis Flowers to the Patriots for a seventh-round pick next year. Flowers wasn’t going to make the team.


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