Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is not, and has not, been a happy man. His defense fell from having a top-five ranking to barely being in the top-15 of NFL defenses. If that wasn't enough for him to deal with, it seems as if there's going to be a changing of the guard at the position that will be calling Zimmer's shots on the field before the 2011 season starts. Zimmer is expecting that four-year Bengals middle linebacker Dhani Jones will head to free agency. They've been grooming two-year linebacker Rey Maualuga to take his place.
Maualuga, who fell to the Bengals in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft, is built more for the middle linebacker position. Zimmer thinks Maualuga is ready for the position chance, but he still needs a lot more work.
"He sure has to play a hell of a lot better than he did this year because he was extremely average," Zimmer said. "He's undisciplined. Half of our whole defensive team is undisciplined. That's why we give up big plays."
This isn't the first time that Zimmer has singled out Maualuga with criticism. Back in November, Zimmer said that Maualuga needed to be more team oriented and said that sometimes he runs around "like a chicken with its head cut off."
However, even though Zimmer thinks Maualuga is just an average linebacker, PFF ranks him as the teams best linebacker having a rating of 11.6 against the run, a team high.
Even though it sounds as though Zimmer really doesn't like Rey Maualuga, it's probably the exact opposite. I was always told, regardless of the situation I was in, that I only need to really worry if my bosses stop criticizing my work because it meant that they didn't care anymore. Zimmer being on Maualuga's case right now probably just means that he can see a lot of promise in the Bengals future middle linebacker and expects a lot of him.
In his four years as the Bengals middle linebacker, Dhani Jones has had 295 tackles (getting more each year), five and a half sacks and one interception. Rey Maualuga has posted 79 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions in his two-year career in Cincinnati, all while playing an unfamiliar position.
While it seams clear that the Bengals plan to move forward by allowing Jones to move on with his career and move Maualuga to his more natural position, what is unclear is who will take Maualuga's SAM position over. Will Zimmer attempt to move Michael Johnson back to outside linebacker again? Will they do their best to re-sign Brandon Johnson and thrust him into a starting role or will second-year linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy take over Maualuga's former position?
We shall see.