Vincent Rey preps for scaled-down role

CINCINNATI -- One look at my mentions on Twitter the past few weeks and it has become painfully obvious that Cincinnati Bengals fans only want one guy to play middle linebacker for their team the rest of the year: Vincent Rey.

It's easy to see why. In three games, playing in relief of injured starter Rey Maualuga, the other Rey has 30 tackles, three sacks and an interception. At times in recent weeks when it seemed the Bengals' supercharged defense needed an extra jolt, it seemed like Rey was always there coming away with a timely tackle, or contributing on a turnover.

But with Maualuga expected to return this week from a knee injury that has kept him out the past 3.5 games -- Maualuga left just before halftime against the Jets five weeks ago -- it appears the fans won't be getting their wish. This weekend at San Diego, Rey will be taking a backseat once again to Maualuga, and that doesn't bother him.

"I'm just going out to do my job," Rey said. "I love playing special teams and I love defense. So whatever the coaches ask me to do, I'm going to do it with a smile on my face and will help my team win."

The immediate future, it seems, is murky at best for the fourth-year linebacker.

"The coaches know better than me," Rey continued. "Whatever they think, I'm going to trust them. They've been coaching for a long time. Some of those guys have been coaching for 20-something years. So whatever we've got to do to win, it doesn't matter.

"I just want to be coming back on the plane ride back with the win. That's all that matters."

It takes nearly four hours to complete the journey from Southern California to the Ohio Valley.

Last week, while most of his teammates, like Rey, took off for much of the week and traveled to visit friends or family, Maualuga stayed in Cincinnati. He was spending extra time strengthening and rehabbing the left knee that suffered an MCL sprain a month ago Wednesday.

"I know my strengths and what I can do," Maualuga said last week when asked about the possibility that his starting role could change due to Rey's strong play. "I'm not worried. I can only control what I can see, see where I am and what they have me doing."

Maualuga practiced each day last week and one day the week before. He also went through a modified routine of agility drills ahead of the Bengals' last game two Sundays ago against the Cleveland Browns. On Monday, he caught Rey's eye.

"He looked great," Rey said. "I'm glad to have him back. He makes plays. I'm looking forward to him being out there on defense. If I ever need to come in and help out, I'm going to do my job."

Until his injury, Maualuga was one of the defense's stars, playing virtually every snap of each game. The only time Rey replaced him previously was on short-yardage, goal-line and clear run-stop situations. As a result of his play the past few weeks, Rey may now see his defensive responsibilities increase from just those scenarios to others. He could be an option at times in the pass-defending game, and could be an option in other rushing scenarios. At the very least, having both players in a middle linebacker rotation will give the Bengals solid depth entering their final five-game stretch.

As much as Rey would like to continue contributing defensively, he knows there's more at stake than just his playing possibilities.

"The main concern of this team isn't me," Rey said. "The main concern is us and us winning. That's all that matters."