In the past, I’ve always stood up and defended Rey Maualuga. Other than Andrew Whitworth and Eric Steinbach, no other second round draft pick in the past ten years has done as much in their first three seasons; moreover, Maualuga has still been viewed as a bit of a disappointment. Keep in mind, fellow Pete Carroll product, Keith Rivers, didn’t play a single snap last year, sitting on the inactive reserve the whole season nursing a wrist injury. Because of this, Maualuga played his first season at middle linebacker supported by Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard, who both playing their first seasons in stripes themselves. Despite that and no training camp, these three linebackers were a major reason Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer’s squad was so successful last year.
Now Lawson and back-up Brandon Johnson are headed to free agency. Dan Skuta, who played in place of Maualuga at inner linebacker for three games during his high ankle sprain will be a restricted free agent as will sophomore Vincent Rey. Add to the mix the speculation surrounding the most recent legal run-in resulting from lil’ Rey Rey’s drunken scuffle at a downtown Cincinnati bar and suddenly what seemed like a position of strength for the Bengals becomes one of ambiguity.
But this isn’t really new either. Currently, of the Bengals 70-man roster, eleven are linebackers. The next closest position is wide receiver with nine personnel. For most of last season, the Bengals keep a linebacker corps deep enough to run a 3-4. Uncertainty will likely force Coach Zimmer to keep his options open again, which is highly disappointing considering that with each entering their fourth NFL season, both Maualuga and Rivers should be one of the most fierce linebacker tandems going.