Linebacker Vincent Rey breaks out in spot start for Bengals
With Rey Maualuga - a starting linebacker for the Bengals since being drafted in 2009 - sidelined with a knee injury, the Bengals turned to Vincent Rey as the fill-in at middle linebacker. After a mediocre starting debut in Week 9, Rey truly broke out during his second game in the starting lineup, racking up 15 tackles, 3.0 sacks, an interception, and two additional passes defended.
The well-rounded performance was like a football version of a triple-double. Rey racked up numbers in three different facets of the game - run defense, pass coverage, and pass rushing. He was the most active player on the Bengals' fourth ranked defense, and was a huge part of holding Joe Flacco to a 60.0 passer rating and Ray Rice to 1.7 yards per carry.
If you're unsure of where Rey came from, you're not alone. An undrafted free agent out of Duke in 2010, Rey did not get a chance to play consistently until 2011, when he earned a special teams role with the Bengals. He was re-signed by the Bengals on a one-year, $630,000 deal back in March, and the team planned to continue to use him as a special teamer and backup at all three linebacker spots. He spent the first eight weeks in his usual special teams role until Maualuga got hurt, giving him an opportunity to start, and now here I am, writing about how exceptionally this underdog played on Sunday.
Despite his status as an early second-round pick and long tenured starter, Maualuga has really been a weak link for the Bengals' strong defense over the past few years. After a promising start to his career, Maualuga has struggled since a solid 2010 campaign, grading out negatively in each of the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.
Maualuga is expected to be healthy following the Bengals' Week 12 bye, but if Rey's performance in Week 11 is anywhere close to how he played in Week 10, Maualuga very well may find himself as a reserve for the rest of the season. Maualuga's strong seasons came when he was playing outside linebacker, and he has struggled ever since transition to the inside. Perhaps he would be better served in Rey's old role as the backup at all three linebacker spots.
Bookended by impressive linebackers Vontaze Burfict and James Harrison, Rey could give the Bengals one of the premier linebacking corps in the NFL if he can keep up something close to the level of play that he displayed on Sunday.