Cincinnati Bengals rookie strong-side linebacker Rey Maualuga said Wednesday that he doesn’t let what happened in the NFL Draft affect him.
But then he more or less said that it does affect him.
Here’s a hint: Go with the latter one. After all, the man is only human.
That – the belief he’s on a mission to prove people wrong -- has been bad news for the three teams the Bengals have played thus far, the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers. The former USC star is off to a great start, being tied for fourth on the team in tackles with 17 while also having one of the team’s 10 sacks, helping the club to a surprising 2-1 start, including two straight wins
The Browns hope that it also doesn’t turn out to be bad news for them when they meet the Bengals on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Despite being the Bednarik Award winner as the nation’s top defensive player last season, Maualuga dropped like a rock in the draft. Believed by most experts to be a top 20 pick, everybody in the first round passed on him. The Browns, who traded down three times before finally selecting Cal center Alex Mack at No. 21, and then used choice No. 36 to tab wide receiver Brian Robiskie of Ohio State and Chagrin Falls High School.
So in essence, the Browns passed on Maualuga on four separate occasions before the Bengals finally took him at No. 38.
“No, I don’t play with a chip on my shoulder because of the draft,” Maualuga said in a late-morning conference call with the Cleveland media. “If I did, I’d play out of control.
“It (stunk) – it hurt – at the time, but I really don’t think about that anymore. The draft is done with. It’s over with.”
But then in the next breath, Maualuga said, “When I make a play, I may look over at the other team’s sideline, not in a taunting way but in a way that says, ‘I just did something I wasn’t supposed to do.’ I wasn’t supposed to be able to do this and that. I wasn’t supposed to be able to cover tight ends. I wasn’t supposed to be able to cover running backs.
“People take chances. I’m glad I dropped to Cincinnati. This is an awesome fit, and the city has shown me so much love. I’m loving it every day. I’m going to do everything I can to give Cincinnati all I’ve got.”
As mentioned, all he’s got has been a great deal thus far. He’s one of the reasons the Bengals are turning heads in the NFL again after three straight sub-par seasons.
Meanwhile, with the Browns, Mack is part of a line that’s really struggling, not opening up holes for the running game and has given up 10 sacks in just three games. Pro-rated, that works out to about 53 sacks for the season.
As for Robiskie, his progress seems to be stuck in neutral for whatever reason in that he can’t seem to find his way onto the game day active roster.
There was a lot of talk before the draft that the Browns would eventually take Maualuga as they kept trading down. But of course, it didn’t happen.
Maualuga had no such feeling that Cleveland would be his home – or so he says.
“It was up in the air,” he said of what his fate would be in the draft.
The Browns feared what the other teams, including the Bengals, feared, that Maualuga, with reported alcoholism and anger management problems, might be too much of a risk for a first-day draft pick
But Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said that after spending a lot of time with Maualuga, and taking to Bengals players from USC who knew him, he thought it was worth the risk to take him as long as he fully understood that he would never reach his potential if he let those demons control him.
“I think I learned from it,” Maualuga said of the experience. “I’m grateful for all the people who supported me.”
Maualuga said former teammate Kaluka Maiava, the USC linebacker the Browns finally did draft in the fourth round at No. 104 overall, is a good one.
“If you give him an opportunity, he’ll make plays,” Maualuga said.
With the Browns at 0-3 and their defense coming off its worst performance of the year in last Sunday’s 34-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, maybe it’s time to heed Maualuga’s advice and give a Southern Cal player a shot. It couldn’t hurt.
Who knows, maybe he even has a chip on his shoulder.