Words from Maualuga’s new right-hand man, Manny Lawson. Teammates had plenty of praise for Maualuga in some recent interviews. It sounds like the transition from Strongside Linebacker to Middle Linebacker is going even better than most had thought.
Starting Strongside Linebacker Manny Lawson:
“He’s young. For somebody so young, he’s experienced. He has a motor, he’s aggressive, he’s everything you want in a linebacker. Now he’s playing the middle so he’s coming downhill. I’m happy he’s on my team. I’m happy I don’t play offense. Whoever does play offense has to keep their eyes open… I’ll guarantee you we’ll be hearing about Rey soon and far into the season.”
Starting Weakside Linebacker Thomas Howard:
“That’s where he belongs. In the middle, he has that presence of a natural leader. He has a nice huddle presence. He’s very comfortable there. He gets the calls out nice and clear, he makes the checks loud. To be a Mike you have to be smart, tough and Rey is both of those. You’re the quarterback of the defense.”
Backup Weakside Linebacker Brandon Johnson:
“He has a natural feel for it. He’s been doing well with communications. He’s done a good job of taking the huddle and guys have done a good job giving him that control and not talking. Let him get in, relax, do his thing and I think he’ll be fine. It’s tough to replace (Jones’) veteran leadership. He’s been in the league for 1,000 years, but for Rey, he’s a natural. I think it will be like riding a bike for him.”
Rey Maualuga on Rey Maualuga:
“Certain people get a certain number of chances. For me it’s a now or never type of deal. This year, especially moving to a different position. I don’t want people talking about my college reputation. ‘You did this, you did that. He hasn’t done a thing.’ Give me an opportunity to play my original spot and then judge me from that. When all this is said and done.”
“When you know what to do, it makes you play a lot faster, I can go from Point A to Point B, left to right, as opposed to playing SAM and being back side and having to come across all the way over the top and being sealed off by the tackle.”
“Last year I was trying to learn the SAM but at the same time they threw me at Mike, too, and I wouldn’t say it was complicated, but sometimes I would zone out. When I was at SAM, I was thinking of the Mike’s responsibilities and not playing my responsibility. But now I get to concentrate on one spot and zone in to become good at it.”
All this praise is greatly encouraging. Lawson, Howard, and Johnson are all at least 3 years older than Maualuga. Maualuga’s generally mediocre (Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer went as far to say “extremely average”) 2 seasons at Strongside LB left many fans wanting more. To have these veteran guys already on board is fantastic.
Maualuga sounds like he was never comfortable at SAM. He clearly likes playing at Mike more. In addition, in the switch to Mike, there were concerns about his ability to be the same playcaller that the veteran Dhani Jones was last year. But, it sounds like he has addressed those concerns already. He also thinks he can play faster and better at Mike than he did at SAM. Lastly, he has the “now or never” attitude that will push him to be even greater.
I had been pretty sold on buying an AJ Green jersey this year to replace my Ochocinco jersey. But, I may have to reconsider. Maualuga’s got the smarts, the hustle, the physical tools, the leadership, and the intangibles to be successful. He just has to prove it.