Rey Maualuga was one of the most unpopular players on the Bengals roster. He was rated by Pro Football Focus as the league's worst 4-3 inside linebacker and was picked on over and over again by the Texans in the team's playoff loss to the Texans.
The Bengals re-signed Maualuga to a two-year deal worth $6.5 million and since they haven't necessarily signed a new middle linebacker, most believe that he's the favorite to start at MIKE in 2013. Maualuga knows he struggled last year and he's thankful for the second chance given to him by the Bengals.
"Although they signed me back, it's still early on. I've still got to go out in OTAs and show our coaches that I'm better than I was last year, better than my previous four years here," Maualuga said. "I had a lot to think about this offseason. I understand what I need to work on. I understand what my role is coming in. I just want to make sure that since I've been given this second chance to work on the things that need work and try to make sure I'm a better person than I was last year."
Maualuga's best two seasons were when he was at SAM and Dhani Jones was the team's middle linebacker. Now that the Bengals have signed James Harrison, though, Maualuga won't make the transition back to the strong side. The only option other than allowing him to start would be to move Burfict to the middle and keep Maualuga as a very expensive backup. That's just as unlikely, though. I think it's safe to say the Bengals intend to start Maualuga -- at least as of right now.
Maualuga does welcome Harrison to Cincinnati with open arms, though. He says that his leadership and attitude will be good for the team.
"I think his leadership and that mentality he brings, as far as 'Can't be blocked, can't be stopped,' he's going to bring everything he has to make sure he gets to the play," Maualuga said. "He brings a lot to the table. He's going to boost up our defense that much more. I'm just looking forward to having him come in and see what we can become as a group."
If Maualuga steps up and plays to his potential and improves from last year, especially in coverage, the Bengals could have a great group of linebackers with Burfict and Harrison playing on either side of him. If he is the same inconsistent linebacker that struggles in coverage again in 2013, though, it wouldn't be surprising to see him replaced early in the season.