Bengals Can Still Make Changes At Linebacker

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals can still make changes at the linebacker position, even though they've already said who will be starting.

The Bengals have already said that they plan on keeping Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker and Vontaze Burfict on the weak side. Considering how things worked out last time they tried to move a linebacker to the middle after he got used to playing on the outside, they may stick with their plan. However, if they decide to try again, they have all the pieces they need to be successful.

Maualuga struggled in 2012. Coaches can blame a "dumb-ass website" for saying he's bad, but it's true. He was the model of inconsistency and struggled terribly, especially in pass coverage. The Texans picked on Maualuga all day long when they defeated the Bengals in the playoffs, throwing passes to Owen Daniels and Arian Foster when he was covering them.

There's always hope that he can improve dramatically in a single offseason, but that would be asking quite a lot. In the end, the Bengals coaches have to field the best team possible, not the team that gets paid the most. If Maualuga is going to be the Achilles heal of the defense, he can't be on the field. At the NFL level, one player like that can be the difference between winning and losing.

The Bengals may already have a plan in place. They have been playing Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur at linebacker when the team is in nickel, which they were in most of the time in 2012. The problem last year was Maualuga was on the field almost all the time. If he's replaced when the Bengals are in nickel, he'll be on the sidelines most of the time.

However, if I'm an offensive coordinator, I'm going to run no huddle offenses to make sure the Bengals can't rotate people in and out, keeping one of the weakest players on the field as often as possible. If that's what ends up happening, rotating Maualuga in and out based on the package the team is running won't likely work very well.

What they could end up doing instead is moving Burfict to MIKE and letting Lamur start at WILL. Of course, they would run the risk of letting Burfict walk down the same road as Maualuga, but in his one season in Cincinnati, he's shown a nose for the football and instincts that Maualuga never had.

Since they re-signed Maualuga to a two-year deal that pays him a little more than an average of $3 million a year, which isn't backup money, it's likely that he's going to see quite a bit of playing time. However, money can't decide which players start and which ones don't. In the end, the best players need to be on the field most often. If Maualuga plays the way he did in 2012, he's not one of the best players and he doesn't give the Bengals their best chance to win.

I'm not rooting against the guy. I hope he succeeds in the NFL and I hope he helps the Bengals win. However, if he isn't the right guy for the job, I hope the Bengals make a move that won't keep them handcuffed to Maualuga at MIKE.

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