CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 02: Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills is tackled by Rey Maualuga #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the game at Paul Brown Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Rey Maualuga. The name brings about a variety of emotions from Bengals fans. Some are infuriated with his two alcohol-related incidents off of the football field. If you can overlook those, there's an injury history that seems troubling and has caused Maualuga to miss quite a bit of time in his three previous years in the NFL. Still, Bengals fans have to be happy that they've had a mainstay at the middle linebacker position since the start of the 2010 season.
Going into the 2009 offseason, the team had been struggling to find a solid player to man the position since Takeo Spikes left the team after the 2002 season. They had a carousel at the position, where players like Ahmad Brooks and Odell Thurman couldn't catch on. When Maualuga fell into the team's lap in the second round of the 2009 draft, everyone knew that they had a special player. After playing the strong side position in his rookie year, Maualuga took over the middle from Dhani Jones.
Most fans have expected more out of Maualuga since returning to his natural position. But, many overlook the fact that since Maualuga has joined the defense, the team has finished within the top-ten in overall defense twice in the last three seasons. Even though he missed three games because of an ankle injury, he logged a career-high 88 (53 solo) total tackles, as well as three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception. Not a bad set of statistics. Still, there have been a maddeningly amount of missed tackles from a player that is supposed to be the most solid tackler on the team.
The 2012 season is going to be crucial for Maualuga and the Bengals. If he can stay healthy and prove that his problems are behind him, he has Pro Bowl potential. He's also entering a contract year, so it's critical that he has a solid year to prove to the club that he is their middle linebacker for another half-decade or more. With all of his flaws, he's still one of the better players on a good Bengals team.