This is a series of five items heading into Friday that could be of high-interest.
Rey Maualuga spent his first two seasons learning outside linebacker, initially replacing Rashad Jeanty during the 2009 preseason. Unable to replace Dhani Jones, who was highly regarded by the Bengals coaching staff as a "coach on the field", Maualuga maintained his new position through the 2010 season. Even so Maualuga led the Bengals defense with 32 stops -- defined as solo tackles that constitutes an offensive failure (limited to no-gain, including quarterback sacks). Pro Football Focus graded him easily as the team's best run defender and as the team's best linebacker.
In truly typical fashion, during the offseason Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer remarked that Maualuga "was extremely average" last season.
"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."
Maualuga took that as a challenge, saying:
"It's my time to stand up and prove them wrong," Maualuga said. "Use it as a fuel to gain what I know I can become. I can't be just some random dude walking around the locker room anymore."
Marvin Lewis admitted that Maualuga is mentally ready for the transition in the middle, all the while beginning taking on a more active leadership role during the offseason, organizing workouts with other defensive mates at Ignition AGP in Mason:
"Last year I was just a person that was following the crowd, just listening," Maualuga said. "Now I feel my presence and the way to speak to the guys will help one of two people. I'm just trying to be that leader and no matter how it works out, when the season starts I'm trying to be that captain. That's my goal."
From most accounts, Maualuga has made the transition smoothly, even impressing fellow linebackers like Brandon Johnson, Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard.
Maualuga will start Friday night at middle linebacker against the Lions in Detroit. Much like Andre Smith's growth that we hope translates onto the field, Maualuga will start writing a new chapter in his career. The defensive leader of the Cincinnati Bengals.