BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Linebacker Rey Maualuga #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals walks to the field before taking on the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
When the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Rey Maualuga during the 2009 NFL draft, the team and its fans were excited. An early first-round prospect before his senior season, Maualuga dropped to the second-round during the draft, following fellow USC linebacker Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, both of whom were drafted in the first. Viewed as an earlier favorite to become the team's starting middle linebacker, the Bengals decided to place him at strong-side linebacker, leaving Dhani Jones as the starter in the middle. At the time it was expected. Eventually Maualuga made the shift to the middle, following Jones' retirement last year.
And in truth Maualuga's time in Cincinnati has been viewed with mixed results. Though he's made plays, sticks and quality tackles, he's frustrated defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, calling him ordinary following the 2010 season. Maualuga's first season in the middle didn't fulfill the prophecies either, especially after the linebacker suffered a midseason ankle injury, which worried him throughout the second-half of the season last year.
"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."
Maualuga also appreciates the coaching style from new linebackers coach Paul Guenther, which may translate to his long-waited breakout season in 2012.
"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."