The Cincinnati Bengals got an unexpected contribution from middle linebacker Vincent "Vinny" Rey this past season, and they may have found their MLB of the future in the process.
For the majority of his career, Vinny was primarily used on special teams. Coming into 2013, he had started in just one game in his four years in the NFL, and that was at weakside linebacker.
When he did get an occasional handful of snaps in a game, it was as a backup WLB and MLB, and it looked as though he was destined to be a career backup.
But after Rey Maualuga, the normal starter at MLB, was knocked out of action due to a sprained MCL, it was Vinny who was thrust into the starting lineup.
The time to shine came for Vinny, and he made the most out of his opportunity.
According to Pro Football Focus (Subscription Required), Vinny had a plus-6.3 grade for the year, which made him the 9th-best MLB in the league that played in at least 25 percent of his teams snaps.
In just his second start of the year in Week 11 vs. the Baltimore Ravens, Vinny led the team with 13 tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss, three pass defenses and an interception in a 20-17 overtime loss.
He would end up starting three games in 2013 with 32 tackles in those games. It was a small sample of Vinny's ability to be a quality MLB, but it was clear he deserved to play significant snaps, even when Maualuga was healthy and returned.
But despite this, Mauluga was given his starting spot back once he returned in Week 13, and Vinnie would average just 15.3 snaps per game over the final six games of the year.
Even more despicable was that Vinny played only five snaps in the Wild Card loss to the San Diego Chargers, a game in which San Diego rushed for 196 yards, most of which were just runs right up the middle.
The Bengals cannot make the mistake of continuing to let Maualuga be the starting MLB on a defense that's arguably the best in the AFC.
They finished with the No. 1 defense in the AFC last year, and are likely going to have 10 of their 11 starters return if defensive end Michael Johnson is the only player to leave in free agency.
Speaking of free agency, Vinny is slated to be a restricted free agent this offseason. The Bengals can match any offer made to sign Vinny, and Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati enquirer does believe the team will bring him back.
If the Bengals do bring him back, they need to make him the starting MLB next year, but at the very least, they must give him more than five snaps in a playoff game.
He's shown that he can be a positive contributor to one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Jason Marcum is a student in the B/R advanced sports media program. You can follow him on Twitter @UK_Fans