BEREA: Beware, Browns. Vontaze Burfict is back.

The Cincinnati Bengals linebacker will make his 2017 regular-season debut Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium after serving a three-game suspension for delivering an illegal hit on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman in the preseason.

Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer likes to scramble, so he had better watch out for Burfict, who has repeatedly violated the NFL’s player safety rules.

“It’s the ref’s job to make sure that the quarterback is protected when he does slide, and it is my job to make sure that I don’t take as many hits as I possibly can,” Kizer said. “I’m sure that after this little time off that he learned somewhat of a lesson, but if he hasn’t, I just have to make sure that I’m protecting myself.”

Coach Hue Jackson expects Burfict to be ornery coming off his suspension.

“He is just ornery anyway,” said Jackson, who spent four seasons with Burfict in Cincinnati. “That is just who he is. He is a good player. He is tough. He loves football. He is kind of the straw that stirs the drink for their defense. They have a good defense, and he will just make it better. He is a really good player, a really fine player.

“Sometimes people give Vontaze a bad reputation. Obviously, his reputation has preceded him by some things he has done, but he is the type of football player you want. He plays the game with everything he has. Every now and then, he is right on the line. Obviously, in the National Football League, you get in trouble for going across the line, but he plays it like you want it played.”

If Burfict crosses the line against the Browns (0-3), Jackson obviously hopes he pays a price.

“I hope he gets penalized in our game if that’s what happens,” Jackson said. “Vontaze knows how I feel about him as a player. He is as fine a linebacker as I have been around. He is a tremendous football player, a heck of a person and a heck of a teammate. He is a really good player. That is just what he is and he plays the game the way you would want any linebacker in this league to play it.”

Still, run game coordinator Kirby Wilson revealed Jackson addressed Burfict’s history of controversial hits in Wednesday’s team meeting.

“[Jackson] warned the guys about being smart, playing smart, making great decisions out on the football field,” Wilson said. “We don’t want to get in a situation where we are responding second and being the one that gets caught [and penalized], and all of the sudden you are playing behind the chains again and defeating yourself. We have to be smart and be aware if he likes to participate in those kind of things.”

Burfict has been a cornerstone of the Bengals (0-3) since they signed him as an undrafted free agent from Arizona State in 2012. He made his lone Pro Bowl in 2013. In 11 games last season, he racked up 101 tackles, including two sacks, two interceptions, eight passes defensed and a forced fumble.

“He is their spark. He is their energy,” Kizer said. “He is definitely one of their key guys on that side. Every week, it is our job to stop their key players. He is definitely a guy to be eyeing.”

Running back Isaiah Crowell communicates with Burfict via social media and will be on the lookout for his friendly rival on the field.

Asked if Burfict is a dirty player, Crowell said, “I feel like he just he has a lot of passion for the game. Sometimes stuff like that happens when somebody has a lot of passion for the game. I am not the one to say he is a dirty player or not. I would call it passion.”

Productive meeting

Cornerback Jason McCourty thought Tuesday’s meeting at NFL headquarters between owners, players and Commissioner Roger Goodell about protests during the national anthem was positive.

“Everybody was listening,” McCourty said. “When ownership talked, as players, we were able to listen and get their perspective. Obviously, none of us are owners. We have no idea the issues and things they deal with in regards to owning an NFL team and vice versa.

“As players, we all come from different backgrounds. We’ve gone through different experiences, and I think it allowed our ownership a chance to hear us out and get the vantage point of players and what they’re seeing and what they’re going through.”

Five members of the Browns attended the meeting. The others were owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, linebacker Christian Kirksey and tight end Randall Telfer.

The roundtable discussion came on the heels of about 200 NFL players sitting, kneeling or raising their fists during the anthem this past weekend after Donald Trump encouraged owners to fire those who knelt during the song. “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,” the president said Sept. 22 at a political rally in Alabama.

“We’re all a part of the same business,” McCourty said of the owners and players. “We want to protect that, and we’re going to work together when someone else is attacking it. So I think that’s kind of what happened between players, ownership, our commissioner. We’re all trying to figure out what’s the next best thing.”

On Friday, the Browns were still discussing how to handle the anthem Sunday.

“The main thing is just to make sure we are all sending the same message, which is we want to unify Cleveland and just send unity around the whole U.S.,” cornerback Jamar Taylor said.

No matter what happens, McCourty stressed the importance of players ensuring the point of the protests doesn’t get lost.

“As players, we have to get back to what the issues are,” McCourty said. “Stop talking about an anthem and stop focusing on that. Focus on the social injustice, the police brutality.”

Seeking redemption

Taylor is determined to bounce back after three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton had seven catches for 153 yards and a touchdown Sunday in the Browns’ 31-28 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

“I just took it like any challenge,” Taylor said. “I just came back to work, worked my butt off.”

Technically, Taylor already rebounded with a strong second half against the Colts.

“To his credit, there is a young man that fought and played really, really well in the second half,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. “He could have let that paralyze him. He didn’t let that paralyze him.”

Now Taylor is preparing for Bengals six-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green.

“The dude can run routes,” Taylor said. “He is fast. He goes up and gets the ball. He’s just all around a great receiver.”

Extra points

• The NFL fined Browns linebacker James Burgess $9,115 for unnecessary roughness against the Colts. He was penalized. Neither Browns defensive end Nate Orchard nor Colts rookie safety Malik Hooker were fined for roughing the passer this past Sunday. Both of them were flagged.

• The Bengals ruled out tight end Tyler Eifert (back), linebacker Jordan Evans (hamstring) and wide receiver John Ross (knee). They listed safety Derron Smith (ankle) as doubtful and guard Trey Hopkins (knee) as questionable.

• The Browns will induct cornerback Bernie Parrish (1959-66) and linebacker/fullback Tony Adamle (1947-51, 1954) into the Cleveland Browns Legends program Saturday during a dinner at FirstEnergy Stadium and honor them Sunday during a halftime ceremony. Several former Browns players will be in attendance for alumni weekend.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.