Ask any Bengals fan and you'll likely get the same response. Rey Maualuga had a below average season last year while playing for the no. 7 ranked defense in the NFL. Perhaps judged unfairly based on expectations, but few believe one could call last season a success for the team's starting middle linebacker. In 2011, Maualuga certainly showed flashes of dominance with big hits and huge tackles in important game situations (see Houston, forced fumbles), but he also missed tackles, struggled to shed blocks at the second level, had a knack for overrunning plays and, above all, he showed tentativeness in his play because of an ankle injury.
"I was playing wrong football, as far as I didn’t want to re-injure my ankle and be done with the season," Maualuga said. "At times I felt like I was playing selfish. They could have put someone out there that could have done more than I could have. Just going out there and letting the coach know that I was fine when really I was not."
The team's starting middle linebacker argues that he failed to play at the level that prompted Cincinnati to draft him during the 2009 NFL draft, outright stating that it was a result of his ankle injury and his desire to play. Having a strong desire to play through pain is something that you like in a football player because it shows strong willpower to produce, but it also needs to be taken into account whether or not he's hurting the team.
In light of the past, 2012 is a "prove it" season for Maualuga (just like 2010 and 2011 were) and according to reports from OTAs, he is beginning to practice better and is gaining the approval of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Maualuga also received high praise from linebacker coach Paul Guenther.
"Paul’s mind-set is, I’m not going to try to throw everything down your throats. I’m just going to show you what you need to do and get out on the field and play football. That’s been awesome. If you mess up a little bit, he’ll just correct it and let you go back out and do what you do, instead of yelling and all of this stuff. It’s been awesome."
So apparently for Maualuga to be effective, less needs to be more, and Guenther is certainly providing this game plan for him.
Last year Maualuga was third on the team with 88 tackles. If you will, imagine how well the defense could perform with a healthy and confident Rey Maualuga... That should be a scary thought for an opposing offense, but will it be?