Head coach Marvin Lewis has faith in Maualuga. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer does too. The question is whether or not Maualuga has faith in himself. The former second round draft pick hears the criticisms and takes them to heart. That’s something the coaching staff has talked to him about, and something that has caused Lewis to angrily come to his player’s defense. After Pro Football Focus rated Maualuga as the worst inside linebacker in the league, Lewis famously referred to the website as “some dumb*** website that doesn’t have any idea what football is.” Zimmer is on record as saying Maualuga is too critical of himself and needs to let things go. Both of them believe he can be a great player, the kind of player they drafted out of USC.
There will be some protection this season. The addition of James Harrison and the continued maturation of Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lemur means that Maualuga won’t be asked to cover as much. He’ll be asked to be a heat-seeking missile, to locate the ball and take down the man carrying it. He became known for fierce hits and big plays in college, and the Bengals will look for him to get back to that.
If he can look inside himself, and find the playmaker inside, and if he can shut out the critics, it’ll be a start. It’s going to be a tough season. There will be boos, complaints, and doubts. However, he knows what he has to do. He needs to be on the field. He needs to hit somebody. He needs to block out everything, and just play football, letting that be his message to those who think he can’t play. The voices in his ear lead nowhere.
Finding inner peace and learning to just play football will lead to redemption.