Maualuga unfazed by possible role change

CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals lost linebacker Rey Maualuga to a knee injury late last month, they were simply hoping to get by for three or four weeks with a slightly altered but moderately effective new lineup.

They weren't looking for Maualuga's replacement to be Superman. A Clark Kent was acceptable enough -- someone who could break past an occasional block, record an occasional tackle, and maybe force an occasional turnover or two.

For the backup himself, though, that wasn't acceptable. Vincent Rey did, in fact, pull out his superhero's cape in the three games that Maualuga missed and put on a clinic on how a reserve football player can take advantage of an opportunity to shine. In those three games, he recorded 30 tackles, three sacks and an interception.

Maualuga was not missed.

That's why, when Maualuga comes back into the starting rotation at middle linebacker next week, there is concern about what his playing time and his role might look like. Conventional wisdom says that with Rey playing so well, he'll be getting a lot more of the snaps. Whether or not that ends up happening, Maualuga said he isn't concerned.

"I know my strengths and what I can do. In that area, I'm not worried," Maualuga said. "I can only control what I can, see where I am and what they have me doing."

Maualuga, who sprained the MCL in his left knee against the New York Jets on Oct. 27, is staying in Cincinnati this week to continue rehabbing his knee and to work on his conditioning ahead of the Bengals' next game at San Diego on Sunday, Dec. 1. With the Bengals' bye this week, many of his teammates are leaving town in order to rest and spend time with their families.

Before his injury, Maualuga was one of the Bengals' best run-stoppers. Through eight games, he had 51 total tackles, putting him on pace for the second-highest single-season tackle total of his career. He had 122 stops last season.

"Whenever you have something good going you don't want to have a setback, but this is something we sign up for," Maualuga said. "Unfortunately, I got dinged. It's a rough sport. Did I wake up that Sunday morning thinking I was going to have an MCL sprain? No. It's a scary position to be in, being carted off the field, but nothing too bad happened as far as a season-ending injury. I just have to strengthen my knee, come back and see what my role is."

When Maualuga returns, the Bengals likely will divide the snaps more evenly between him and Rey in an effort to keep them both fresh.

Through the first eight games, Rey averaged 5.4 defensive snaps per game. He was primarily a special-teams player, but came in during short-yardage and goal-line situations. Because he had 19 snaps against the Jets -- most of which came after Maualuga's injury -- that average was a little skewed. Maualuga in that same stretch was averaging 46.1 snaps.

Since Maualuga's departure from the lineup, Rey has appeared in an average of 69 plays, including all 79 snaps against the Browns last weekend.

About 2 1/2 hours before Sunday's victory over Cleveland, Maualuga came out onto Paul Brown Stadium's field and worked out with trainers and linebackers coach Paul Guenther. Maualuga went through a series of ladder and agility drills to work on his explosiveness. He was working on his hands, too, catching passes during drills that required him to read a quarterback's eyes.

"It felt good," said Maualuga, who practiced Friday for the first time since the injury. "It gets frustrating sometimes knowing you were able to do some stuff but you're not quite ready yet."

Yet another reason why Rey stands a good chance of getting some additional playing time the next few weeks aside from his normal short-yardage work.