Why 2012 Is Make or Break for Rey Maualuga in Cincinnati

Matt GrayContributor IJune 7, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01:  Rey Maualuga #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals takes the field for the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
John Grieshop/Getty Images

In only three years with the Cincinnati Bengals, Rey Maualuga has gone from a fresh-faced rookie to being one of the most tenured faces in Mike Zimmer's evolving defense.

2011 saw Maualuga transition back to his natural position at middle linebacker in what was a much anticipated but ultimately disappointing switch. A high ankle sprain and lockout-increased rust were equally to blame for Maualuga's struggles, and he will be looking to set the record straight in 2012.

Rey has since acknowledged his struggles in 2011, putting them down to injury and selfishness:

"I was playing wrong football, as far as I didn’t want to reinjure my ankle and be done with the season. At times I felt like I was playing selfish. They could have put someone out there that could have done more than I could have. Just going out there and letting the coach know that I was fine when really I was not. I wasn’t playing to my potential due to the fear of reinjuring my ankle." via Bengals.com

As his own admission of selfishness suggests, Rey's biggest obstacle going forward, will continue to be himself. His recurring off the field problems have undermined his desire to be a locker room leader, raising the question of whether he is really the voice the Bengals want to to rally their defense.

On the field Maualuga is prone to run himself out of plays whilst trying to make a tackle, and chases the ball more than he should. While this is indeed a criticism, it is also a reflection of his desire to make a a play on every snap which can only be seen as positive. With a full offseason in which to fully re-accustom himself with the MLB spot, and a handful of disappointing lapses fresh in his memory, Maualuga has an opportunity to become smarter and more mature in his play in 2012.

Speaking at OTA's this week, Maualuga spoke honestly and openly about his own shortcomings, his struggles to rectify them and how he feels about the upcoming season:

"My mindset is I can't call the play and try to get everybody lined up and at the same time get back in the huddle tell everybody to run to the football and be that leader everybody wants because I've got a lot of things floating around in my head," Maualuga said. "I was still trying to adapt too. At the same time I was trying to second-guess myself and I couldn't try to do two things at once. Now I feel a lot more comfortable; hopefully that side of me will come out sooner rather than later." via Bengals.com

Maualuga will need to be more than comfortable when the Benglas travel to Baltimore in Week 1, as he has both Vincent Rey and the once highly touted Vontaze Burfict eager to supplant him. Burfict in particular has done a lot to win the respect of the Bengals' coaching fraternity with his dedication and his studiousness in OTA's. If he can fulfil the potential that once saw him projected as a first-round pick, and Maualuga fails to improve in 2012, the Bengals will certainly have a lot to think about when Maualuga's contract expires in 2013.