Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Few linebackers entered the 2008 season more hyped than USC's Rey Maualuga. His blow-up hits were YouTube sensations and his amazing physical skills had him high on most NFL draft boards.
Yet Maualuga only had seven tackles in the first two games. He was battling through a variety of injuries, but he also wasn't playing terribly well. He had 12 tackles against Oregon State, but it wasn't a performance that made him -- or any Trojan, for that matter -- proud.
The diagnosis was fairly simple: He was trying to do too much.
"Coming into the season, I felt like I had to play up to everyone's expectations and be this ideal player that everyone had me as -- I had to do this, I had to do that. 'Rey has to have three sacks a game!'" he said. "Basically, I was being a person I wasn't. I was trying to be what people wanted me to be.
He talked to his coaches, particularly linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr.
"I realized that every play doesn't have to be a special play or a remarkable hit -- make the plays you can make," he said.
After sitting out the Oregon game with a knee injury, Maualuga has 28 tackles in the last four games -- three shutouts and a 17-10 victory over Arizona -- and now again leads the Trojans with 47.
By playing within the system, he's not overrunning plays. And by focusing only on his responsibilities, he's playing faster while being more under control
"When you know what's going on it allows you to play fast," he said.
Whether Maualuga fills his closet with a bunch of awards after the season ends or not, he's already received an honor that he clearly values.
"Coach Carroll said I've been playing the best since I've been here," he said.