During his interview with the local media on Friday at the Combine in Indianapolis, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was asked about the uncertainty at middle backer. When asked about the "dilemma in the middle" if Dhani Jones doesn't return, he through comfort in to the words that the Bengals do have options
"I don’t think we have a dilemma in the middle at all. We've got good candidates there. At some point we’re going to make the transition to (Rey) Maualuga to the middle linebacker spot. It may be right now. We'll see how it works out. We've got to get guys going there and that's another area that's important for us to add more young players in that mix. I thought Rod Muckelroy showed me he could play in the NFL."
The conventional wisdom since he was drafted by the Bengals in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, is moving Rey Maualuga to middle linebacker once Dhani Jones leaves Cincinnati, or whenever he lost productivity. Jones posted 160 tackles in 2010, including eight games where he posted over 10 tackles. Since 2009, no Bengals defensive player has come to close to Jones' total tackles, posting 302 stops while Rivers, second to Jones in both seasons, has recorded 196 tackles -- a margin of 106 stops combined through both seasons.
If Jones returns, and we have no reason not to believe that the Bengals won't make every effort to bring him back, then he'll return as the starting middle linebacker, leaving Maualuga as a strong-side linebacker. And the reason isn't just about productivity. Mike Zimmer often praises Jones for being the defensive quarterback on the field, calling the plays and getting defensive players into position. An extension of the coach on the field.
What does that mean for Maualuga? We're not exactly sure. We'd like to say that he'll eventually move to middle linebacker, but that's yet to happen. They tried experimenting with Maualuga in the middle during offseason workouts and during training camp last year, yet Jones played all but five defensive snaps in 2010. At the same time, we're not 100% convinced that the Bengals won't give Roddrick Muckelroy an opportunity to compete for the job as starting middle linebacker linebacker, if Jones departs. Then again, the rookie Texas linebacker played three defensive snaps in 2010, all three as the second inside linebacker in 3-4 formations. So that might be premature. He could be the prime candidate to replace Maualuga at outside linebacker if Rey moves to the middle.
Take mind that our opinion isn't completely based on our beliefs of which player is best suited for the position. When formulating our opinion, we had to take into account how highly the team views Jones. We do feel that Maualuga has the inside track to win the job if Jones doesn't return. Additionally, we're sure that he'll be an effective middle linebacker once he finally makes the transition. According to Pro Football Focus, Maualuga is the Bengals best rush defender on the team with a grade of 11.6. But in the end, we feel that transition will come directly in response to whatever Dhani Jones does this offseason.
(thanks to brian.combs02 for posting a FanPost on it Friday night)