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Cincinnati Bengals: Rey Maualuga Should Be Replaced by Vontaze Burfict

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COMMENTARY | The Cincinnati Bengals have a strong group of fans intent on seeing linebacker Rey Maualuga benched in favor of second-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

That's exactly what the team should do this preseason as the team preps for the regular season.

After making the transition from strong-side linebacker to his natural role in the middle, Maualuga's fortunes with the team took a nose dive. He entered free agency this offseason and couldn't find a home anywhere else in the league until Cincinnati came calling once more.

As of now, Maualuga is penciled in as the starting middle linebacker. Here's a list of reasons explaining why that has to change before the season starts.

MLB Isn't Maualuga's Natural Role

Sure, everyone was clamoring for the USC product to move into the middle after two seasons on the strong side. Yes, the ones clamoring for the move were correct in that it seemed like a flawless idea considering that's the position Maualuga played during his time in college.

Yet, Maualuga clearly isn't a natural middle linebacker at the NFL level.

Maualuga is a natural strong-side linebacker. He proved that during his first two seasons when he was actually one of the better overall players at that specific position in a 4-3 scheme.

Why is Maualuga so good on the strong side? It's the exact reasons holding him back from being a great player in the middle. Maualuga is great against the run but is horrific in coverage.

In the Cincinnati defense, the strong-side linebacker is taken off the field in obvious passing situations in favor of an extra defensive back. The man in the middle stays on the field at all times, so Maualuga was protected on the strong side while vulnerable in the middle.

It's clear Maualuga is better at one position when compared to the other, but if the coaching staff makes a change, Maualuga will still have to fight the newly-signed James Harrison for the starting gig on the strong side.

Vontaze Burfict is That Good

This shouldn't surprise you. Vontaze Burfict is the well-known story about the troubled undrafted free agent who turned his future around with the guidance of the Cincinnati coaching staff.

Burfict appeared in 16 games last season with the team as a weak-side linebacker and racked up 125 total tackles. He left much to be desired against the pass but was exceptional in run defense.

In other words he's the perfect fit for the middle of the defense.

If it sounds like the coaching staff would be repeating the same mistakes over again, that's because it would be in a sense. The good news is, Burfict is much better against the pass than Maualuga, hence him starting on the weak side in the first place.

Burfict is a mean player and one you want in the heart of a defense. He won't struggle mentally when fans or media heckle him. He shouldn't struggle to adapt to a position he has played all his life. He's already led the team in tackles despite not playing in the middle, otherwise known as the highest tackle tally for most defenses each year.

The reasons go on, but much of Burfict's chances of moving to the middle rely on the next point.

The Emmanuel Lamur Factor

With Thomas Howard gone and rookie Sean Porter being an unknown as the season approaches, the coaching staff doesn't have a choice but to keep Burfict on the weak side, right?


Last year another undrafted rookie shined just like Burfict. He was Emmanuel Lamur, who was called upon in nickel packages to help in coverage. Lamur showed right off the bat he may be the best coverage linebacker on the roster.

Lamur has been turning heads already this preseason, even if it's just practices in shorts at OTAs. Geoff Hobson of thinks Lamur could have a breakout year after seeing him at OTAs recently.

According to Hobson, Lamur is now weighing in at 242 pounds despite playing last season at 230. Per multiple accounts from Hobson and other players, Lamur hasn't lost any of the speed that allows him to excel in pass coverage.

Lamur sounds like he could fight his way into the starting role on the weak side next season. Even if the coaching staff feels some sense of loyalty to Maualuga, there's absolutely no excuse for not having Lamur on the field if he's that talented.

The Bengals are going to field the best three linebackers on the roster by the time the season rolls around. That could very well be Harrison, Burfict and Lamur.

Maualuga may be the odd man out next year.

Chris Roling is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, Fansided, The Cincinnati Enquirer and more. He is the co-host of a Cincinnati Bengals podcast, @BengalsCentral

You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Roling

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