When former USC Trojan linebacker Rey Maualuga was drafted by the Bengals in the second round of the 2009 draft, fans were ecstatic and called it a steal of epic proportions. While that still may be true, Maualuga still hasn't exactly lived up to expectations going into his fourth season in the NFL. Some of the blame can be laid at his feet with a couple of off-field incidents, while injuries and playing the unnatural position of SAM linebacker are out of his control.
Still, Maualuga is feeling the heat this season. He's going into a contract year and many are hoping for him to move past the label of "solid" NFL linebacker to "star". In speaking with Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Maualuga responded to the question regarding expectations of his play in 2012.
"I don’t know. I’m not Jesus, I’m not Superman. I’m going to be the best football player Rey can be. Everyone talks about my other fellow companions that are being successful in the league – Brian (Cushing) and Clay (Matthews). 'Where is that guy we thought we drafted from SC?' My mindset has to be I can’t worry about what other people think. I just have to be the best player I can be under Mike Zimmer’s defense."
There's a lot of truth to what Maualuga is saying. And, to be fair, the names he brought up (Cushing and Matthews) haven't been without their respective ups and downs in their brief NFL careers either. Cushing has battled injuries and Performance Enhancing Drug issues, while Matthews' production fell off last year after bursting on the scene his first two seasons.
Still, Maualuga is right in that he shouldn't focus on grouping himself in the group of fellow Trojan linebackers. He needs to focus on the playbook and grasp more of the mental aspects of the game. Furthermore, he needs to refine his tackling a bit as well. Still, in his first season as an NFL middle linebacker, Maualuga anchored a No.7 ranked defense. And, he did so on a bum ankle throughout the latter portion of the season.
If he's completely healthy and has immersed himself in the playbook, Maualuga won't have to worry about how his former college mates are doing, as he will likely be having the type of year that fans have been expecting since 2009.