USA TODAY Sports
If you think you know what the Bengals are going to do with their linebacker positions, then you may want to re-think what you think you know.
+ One report from Adam Caplan this weekend suggested that the Cincinnati Bengals will allow Rey Maualuga to leave for free agency, citing a source with knowledge of the situation. Another source with knowledge close to the situation told Bengals.com that the report isn't accurate and even hinted that Cincinnati could bring Maualuga back as the strong-side linebacker, where he played for two seasons before transitioning inside. Remember MTV's Celebrity Death Match?
Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer compared overall frustration -- more like overreaction -- with Maualuga to Justin Smith, who for a time was frustrating most fans during his stay, largely due to his limited sack numbers as a No. 4 overall selection from the 2001 NFL draft.
"He is, as you will find out when this free agency period starts, that he’s a lot better than what a lot of people give him credit for," Zimmer said. "I think that’s going to be what people are going to find out if he goes. If he’s not here people are going to miss him and say we should have had him. That’s how it works, like Justin Smith."
Now that the topic is transitioning to Vontaze Burfict's transition inside, Zimmer went on to remind fans that demanded Maualuga to move to inside linebacker to be careful what you wish for, writes Joe Reedy with the Cincinnati Enquirer.
For those who hope Vontaze Burfict moves to middle linebacker, Zimmer had one succinct comment: "Be careful what you wish for. Because that is what they said about Maualuga two years ago, right?"
Maybe he's right. Maybe? Are we seriously so full of ourselves to believe that we know more of what's right for the team than Zimmer? Anyway if the Bengals decide not to move Burfict inside, who are we to counter that? In one rookie season, playing not-middle linebacker, Burfict still led the team with 174 tackles. Why mess with what worked?
"He can (play SAM), but if I remember correctly after his second year and Dhani (Jones) left, everyone was saying he should move to the MIKE when he played pretty good at SAM," Zimmer said. "But he’s got to go to the MIKE linebacker, wasn’t that what everyone was saying? 'Oh, Maualuga is going to MIKE, yeah.' Now everyone is going 'he should have stayed at SAM.' You can’t win."
During his press conference on Friday, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was asked about Burfict, deflecting a concrete answer into more "he can play anywhere" generalities. Though the natural progression suggests Burfict's move inside, we're not 100 percent sure that the team is actually planning that.
Could Cincinnati draft a middle linebacker to replace Maualuga, re-sign Maualuga as the strong-side linebacker and keep Burfict on the weak-side, allowing Thomas Howard to leave for free agency? It's as probable scenario as any. Cincinnati spoke with Manti Te'o during a 15-minute interview and used most of that time to talk football, not off-the-field issues that non-football people have become clinically obsessed with. The Bengals were one of 20 teams that chatted during formal interviews with the Notre Dame linebacker.
That's the beauty of the offseason. Tons of speculation and months to filter through it.