Was Rey Maualuga a handful at USC?

According to a report by Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post, one of the reasons why linebacker Rey Maualuga fell in last month’s draft (he was selected by the Bengals with the 38th overall pick after most projected him to go in the first round) was because he was a “handful” at USC.

Rey Maualuga, the second-round pick of the Bengals, needs to make sure he walks a very tight behavior line in Cincinnati. Maualuga slipped in the draft for a number of reasons, and he must keep his off-the-field behavior in check and not create problems for the coaching staff. In talking to some NFL people, I heard that Maualuga was not always compliant with the rules on and off the field at USC. He was, as one GM said to me, putting it mildly, “a handful.”

Well, Maualuga wound up in the right place if he’s intent on being disorderly.

When you think about it, Maualuga slipping into the second round isn’t that big of a surprise. First of all, scouts consider him a two-down linebacker in that he can be a force against the run, but a liability in coverage and thus he’ll have to come off the field in obvious passing situations. And if teams knew he caused coaches grief off the field while at USC, then it makes sense that NFL GMs hesitated taking him in the first round. No pro team is going to want to invest first round money on a player who was known to be (to borrow the exact word from the report) a handful while in college, not to mention will have limitations on the field at the next level.

The Bengals’ draft this year has boom or bust written all over it, or at least their first two picks do. Andre Smith was the riskiest pick in the first round given all the baggage he carried with him coming into the draft and now it’s clear that Maualuga was a risk as well, even for the second round. But both players are immensely talented and if they can fly straight and just play football, then Cincy might have gotten two steals. Plus, there’s a difference between being a handful and being destructive. We’re not talking about choir boys here and as long as Maualuga can respect his coaching staff and not get in trouble with the law, then I doubt the Bengals care if he’s a bit of a character.

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Gruden has high remarks for linebacker prospect Laurinaitis

Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis drew high praise from former Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, as well as several scouts at the NFL scouting combine this week.

“I think sometimes these guys that play four years and have great success as freshmen and sophomores and you sense a little decline there, sometimes overanalysis hurts these guys,” Gruden said during the NFL Network’s coverage this afternoon. “I would love to have Laurinaitis on my team. He’s going to be a factor for you.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer went on to compare 40-times for linebackers and noted how Laurinaitis ran a smidge faster than USC’s Rey Maualuga.

Laurinaitis ran a 4.80 and a 4.81. The fastest time for USC’s Maualuga’s was 4.83, according to the Network. Maualuga aggravated what he said had been a lingering hamstring injury running the 40. Those two are expected to be the first two inside linebackers taken, and they are very different animals than the outside linebacker prospects who put up faster times.

The problem Laurinaitis faces at the next level is that he often struggled with shedding blockers in college and he isn’t overly aggressive. For having decent size (6’3”, 240 pounds), he’s not that explosive of a hitter and some scouts actually feel that he doesn’t have much upside. But as Gruden points out, Laurinaitis is a blue collar-type of athlete, with excellent football instincts and does have the ability to work through traffic. Depending on what defensive scheme he’s drafted into, he could excel and the bottom line is that he’s a football player through and through.

As for Maualuga, forget the 40-time – this guy is an absolute beast. Most NFL teams want a middle linebacker that has the ability to meet a blocker head on, shed them quickly and get to the ball carrier. That’s Maualuga. He’s aggressive, explosive and he’s a big time hitter and that’s why he’ll be taken ahead of Laurinaitis. Maualuga just fits what most coaches look for in a middle linebacker at the pro level and outside of a lingering hamstring injury, there’s nothing but upside for the USC product.

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