Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga would like a mulligan for the 2012 NFL season. Not because he failed to produce (second on the team in tackles with 122), but more for missed opportunities in critical situations.
Maualuga was made to look like Texas toast on defense in Cincinnati’s playoff loss to the Houston Texans. Scapegoat? Maybe, but he quickly became the villain in the eyes of fans for the outcome, a 19-13 loss.
“I’ve received all the criticism, hate, tweets, Facebook posts and shrugged it off,” Maualuga said during a one-on-one interview. “To concentrate on that would make me less of a player. If I’d let that stuff affect me I wouldn’t have came back. Moving forward, I’m not focused on what they say here and there. It’s a new season and everyone gets a fresh start. They can still talk. It will go in one ear and out the other.
“I want my play to speak for itself so everyone can forget about what happened last season. I want them to see a different Rey. Hopefully, I can persuade my critics to like what they see on the field.”
The former USC Trojan drew plenty of interest during free agency but opted to re-sign with Cincinnati this offseason. The linebacker said he wanted to return because it was the best situation for him and his family. Another reason is to prove himself to head coach Marvin Lewis and the team that drafted him.
“Obviously, I want to get better,” he said. “My main focus is go in there and see what I can improve off of last year -- like the things I haven’t done so well and the things I get criticized for. I eat all that up and turn it into focus to improve my playing ability to get better.
“I’m focused, determined and ready to wash out the nasty taste in my mouth from last year. I can sit here and talk all I want, but it’s all about putting in the work and showing it on the field. That’s what I am determined to do and that’s what I’m going to do.”
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Maualuga struggled to make plays last season, particularly in pass defense. He had some trouble shedding blocks and would play himself out of position at times. His inconsistency led Cincinnati to bring in serious competition, signing former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro James Harrison to compete at strongside linebacker.
The organization’s Jedi-mind trick could bring out the fierce competitor in Maualuga. The coaches want to see the fiery impact performer that impressed them in training camp his rookie season. But for now, Maualuga’s role on defense appears hazy in his fifth year with the Bengals.
“I don’t know how much I’ll play,” he said. “That’s football, the best 11 players on the field. Whatever my title is this year I will play that role to the best of my ability. As of now, I have to focus on the basics and what I need to do to help the team. No matter the circumstances, I’m ready to ball.
“We have all the pieces to be a championship team. We all have to hone in and put everything into perspective. We practice that way and just have to go out there and execute. We’re hungrier than we were last year. Close isn’t the word. We’re there.”