Rey Maualuga In The Middle: Is a 3-4 Switch On The Bengals' Horizon?

Robb Hoff@NFLNostradamusContributor IMay 9, 2009

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 1:  Cincinnati Bengals second round draft pick Ray Maualuga #58 runs a drill during rookie minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium on May 1, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Mark Lyons/Getty Images)

If you were at all like me during those golden moments just before the Bengals pulled the trigger on the 38th pick of the 2009 NFL draft, the "Pick Maualuga! Pick Maualuga!" shout shook loud enough to genuinely disturb those nearby who might have been unprepared for its depth and volume.

Now that Maualuga is in stripes, what will Bengals' fans be shouting for next?

3-4 or 4-3 base

There's now no reason now why the Bengals can't seamlessly switch between bases on defense whenever they like.

Maualuga had all the looks of a surefire, first-round slobber-knocker of an inside backer for a 3-4 team.

If Marvin Lewis and company agree, the Bengals can use Dhani Jones next to Rey on the inside and maybe even plug in their third-round pick of this year's draft, Michael Johnson, on one edge and use Keith Rivers on the other.

Even if Jones and Rivers shifted between inside and out positions, there's enough versatility between the two to really confuse defenses without sacrificing pass coverage or run-stop toughness.

Should Johnson not prove up to the task at outside LB, Robert Geathers can readily morph into a 3-4 edge rusher, maybe even with better success than he has ever had rushing against the right side of offensive lines as a 4-3 end.

Up front

So if we allow ourselves to believe that the 3-4 could finally happen again in Cincinnati, how would the three-man front shape up?

Maybe never better than it could have at any time during the Lewis Era.

There's no shortage at the nose. Domata Peko, free-agent signing Tank Johnson, Pat Sims, and maybe even the giant Jason Shirley could rotate over center.

What's more, Peko and Sims are pretty quick twitch for their size and could feasibly work the left end spot against right tackles and shore up well against potential strongside double teams for run defense.

As for the rest of the end rotation, that's probably where the sticking point will be.

Last year's starters at end in the 4-3—Geathers and Odom—aren't especially suited for end in a 3-4.

But if anyone remembers, Geathers beefed up early in his Bengals career to kick inside to play 4-3 DT. He could easily beef up again, and Odom has some frame to bulk up if he's not too skin tight.

Beside those two, ends Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene look to me like they're best suited as 3-4 DEs anyway.

Three-way or four-way is still front seven

Whether the Bengals adopt a 3-4 base, use some 3-4 looks, or stick altogether with a 4-3, Bengals' fans will likely be shouting again.

But expect the shouting to be more "for" than "at" because the team stands to improve on its rather amazing ranking for yards allowed per game in 2008—12th in the NFL. 

Considering how awful the Bengals' offense was without QB Carson Palmer, it would seem a minor miracle that the ranking wasn't dead last.

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer appears to have that extra ingredient that his predecessors under Lewis lacked during their stays in Cincinnati, and that could be enough to get this team all the way over the hump if Carson Palmer can finally return to his 2005 form. 

Robb Hoff, Football Nostradamus

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