Rey Maualuga's Weight Loss Attempts to Bolster Cincinnati Bengals Defense

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIOctober 13, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 10: Wide receiver Anquan Boldin #81 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by linebacker Rey Maualuga #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals on a reverse play during the first half at M&T Bank Stadium on September 10, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

There have recently been reports out of the Cincinnati Bengals camp that middle linebacker Rey Maualuga had been told to drop 10 pounds by linebackers coach Paul Guenther.

Maualuga is currently listed on the roster at 260 pounds. This past Monday, Maualuga stated that he is currently down to 254 pounds and should be able to get down to 250 by Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

Guenther had this to say about his decision to ask Maualuga to drop the weight:

He feels the difference and I went back and showed him some clips from when he was a rookie and you can see the difference in his foot speed and some of the things that he was doing. I think that Rey knows exactly what to do. I think when he gets fatigued, that’s when he misses tackles. He knows what to do and he wants to do it as well as anybody on our team.

Many coaches, pundits and fans are claiming that this weight loss will help Maualuga as it did Ray Lewis, the 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens.

Lewis dropped 25 pounds over the offseason and is now listed at a playing weight of 235. This was not only done to improve Lewis’ playmaking ability; it was also done as a precautionary measure to extend his career.

The NFL is a different game than it used to be; it is now a pass-first league that asks more of linebackers in pass coverage. Slimmer, faster linebackers are now in fashion over the old-school 265-pound, bulky run-stuffing linebackers of the past.

Two linebackers that now weigh in at less than 240 pounds are the aforementioned Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49ers. These players are arguably the best linebackers in the league, so maybe this is a good trend for Maualuga to follow.

The knock of Maualuga this season is that he is having trouble overpursuing on running plays and his lack of ability to get off a block. Maualuga hopes that slimming down will allow him to play quicker and more aggressively.

One worry about Maualuga slimming down is a possible loss of strength. If he is having trouble shedding blocks at 260 pounds, it may be even more difficult at 250.

There are some glaring problems with Maualuga’s stats this season. He has recorded 44 tackles, but exactly half of them have been assisted tackles. This proves that he is having trouble wrapping up ball-carriers in space on his own.

Compare those numbers to those of Ray Lewis, who has 43 tackles, with only seven of those are assisted. That is a total of 36 solo tackles this season, as this veteran has no trouble wrapping up and making a tackle.

Maualuga certainly should be able to improve in coverage at a lighter weight, but it may end up hurting him in the running game. He has continuously struggled this season in his pursuit of running backs and closing his gaps.

This will lead to one of two theories:

  1. The dropped weight will allow Maualuga to become shiftier to get around the big offensive linemen that have been tormenting him all season. This will make him more effective in pursuit.
  2. If Maualuga can not become quick enough to evade these linemen, he will become even more of a liability in the running game, as he may have a tougher time shedding those blocks to close a running lane.

Maualuga’s first test as a slimmed-down linebacker will come this week as he faces the dangerous rookie running back Trent Richardson of the Cleveland Browns. Richardson got the best of Maualuga in their first matchup by rushing for 109 yards on 19 attempts and a score while racking up a 5.7 yard-per-carry average.

The Bengals’ defense has come together as a unit lately and continues to improve upon its sluggish start to the season. Maualuga will be one large key to the effectiveness and longevity of this defensive unit for the remainder of the 2012 season.