CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01: Rey Maualuga #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals takes the field for the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
There were targets that many of us listed as needs heading into last weekend's NFL draft. Cornerback and wide receiver were the most proverbial, while running back was favored and linebacker (at least a pass rusher) was thrown in as the dark-horse. However in this context, need isn't so much about the entire draft, rather the selections within the first three rounds.
And according to Geoff Hobson, one player that felt a sense of relief following the 2012 NFL draft, was starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.
"I was worried," Maualuga admitted before Monday's workout at Paul Brown Stadium. "I have fans here in Cincinnati and I've got fans that don't like me and they didn't think I had a good season and just want me to get out of here. We had two first-round picks and you hear things. Are they going to trade up and draft the Cincinnati native? Or take (Don’t'a) Hightower?
Despite unsubstantiated rumors that the Bengals were looking to trade up into the top-ten, likely targeting St. Xavier's Luke Kuechly, and the fact Dont'a Hightower was never associated with the Bengals that we know of, we never felt that Rey Maualuga had any reason to be concerned this year. The job is his, and has been his, since he replaced Dhani Jones last season.
Now there are those that felt Maualuga had a year that left a lot to be desired, especially in pass coverage (he was typically taken out during obvious passing situation). There are more still that generated intense expectations that unless Maualuga generated 150 body-blistering tackles, picked off five passes and sacked the quarterback ten times, the disappointment would reverberate by default.
Yet he missed three games with an ankle sprain and still finished second on the team with 115 tackles, ripped the football from Houston's Ben Tate during a goalline situation (in which the Bengals offense took a 13-3 lead on a 97-yard drive) and recorded four total turnovers (interception, three forced fumbles).
We're not excusing him. It's alright to define his season last year as "meh". There were issues we've brought up in the past with Maualuga's game, often over-shooting lanes, struggling to shed tackles, blah, blah, blah. For the sake of fairness however, this was Maualuga's first season as the team's starting middle linebacker and it would probably benefit the Bengals to give him another shot to develop into the fierce middle linebacker many had expected. It makes sense especially with Maualuga entering a contract-year.
And thus the two forces at work against him right now. There are the violations against the personal conduct policy that could impose a suspension this year and then there's the upcoming contract year, which could mark the final season with the Cincinnati Bengals. We're not sure if he doesn't improve significantly, that the Bengals may not make it a point to rebuild the linebacker position through next year's draft anyway, finding a different solution to their long-term needs at middle linebacker.
But for this year. He's safe.