The 2012 NFL season was a success in nearly every way for the Cincinnati Bengals, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Unexpected major contributions came from guys like Vontaze Burfict, Wallace Gilberry and Terence Newman, while the regular stars, like Geno Atkins, had big seasons as well.
These players and others helped the Bengals recover from a tough stretch of games and led them to a winning streak and the playoffs for the second year in a row. There was plenty of praise to go around but one member of the defense was an exception to that.
Rey Maualuga seemed to struggle all season long and was called out almost weekly by irate fans who were tired of seeing bad angles and blown coverage by the former second round draft pick. Now Maualuga is a free agent, and it must be decided by the Bengals whether or not to re-sign the beleaguered linebacker.
Maualuga was drafted out of the University of Southern California in 2009 at a time when the Bengals wanted to replace an aging Dhani Jones with a younger, faster middle linebacker. Maualuga started his career outside and played decently, prompting fans to believe he would be even better inside, which was what he played at USC. However, his flaws were much more noticeable at MLB and his propensity to overrun plays was especially maddening. After being made a team captain with little improvement in 2012, fans saw his impending free agency as a way to go in a different direction and replace him with someone better.
It was reported recently that the Bengals had no plans to re-sign Maualuga but head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer have both stated distanced themselves from that report and said they want to bring him back, saying he was an important part of the team. Fans might disagree with that but Maualuga’s output might depend on the capacity at which he’s re-signed.
Maualuga’s best games came early in his career at outside linebacker, where he didn’t have as many responsibilities and could just make plays. If he is brought back as a situational player rather than a starter, he could have some value. Additionally, his leadership was mentioned by the coaches and with a lot of youth at the LB position, that could have some merit. He was made a team captain last year and he almost certainly has the respect of those younger players. He could also have more impact if used properly.
Maualuga was rated as one of the worst coverage linebackers in the NFL last season but was significantly better against the run. His best role, if he returns, would be on early downs outside where he doesn’t have to make plays like he did in the middle. If he can do that effectively, he is worth a new contract. Fans will remain skeptical on Maualuga for now but the Bengals’ moves in recent years have been right more often that not, so they’ll just have to trust that the coaches know what they’re doing.