Posted: 7:10 p.m.
The kid who once lived with his parents in the attic of a church has come pretty close to the penthouse. But after signing what ProFootballTalk.com called a $4.66 million deal for what is believed to be four years, Bengals rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga is going to make sure it doesn't go to his head.
He only has to look at the depth chart when he lines up for his first NFL practice at 3 p.m. Friday at Georgetown College and see himself behind four-year veteran Rashad Jeanty at SAM linebacker after a highly-decorated career under Pete Carroll at USC.
"It's not a factor as far as I see things," Maualuga said shortly after signing the deal at Paul Brown Stadium. "Coach Carroll always taught us about competition. It's always going to be about competition. I'm going to have to compete. Nothing is ever going to be given to me or to anybody. If he wins the job it's because he's the best man for it. He gave everything he got. If I win it, it will definitely mean something."
The Maualuga signing is symbolic of why the Bengals head to Marvin Lewis' seventh training camp relatively refreshed from an 11-loss hangover. First-rounder Andre Smith is still unsigned, but with Chad Ochocinco saying all the right things, Carson Palmer throwing all the right things, and the training room empty, Georgetown is more Tranquillity Base instead of the Ocean of Storms on this 40th anniversary of Cincinnatian Neil Armsrong's first moonwalk.
» With 10 of their 11 rookies signed and expected to sign it's going to be a near full house right from the start as the Bengals wait for Smith to agree. After a year they finished among the top of the league with most players on injured reserve, they go to camp with no players on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) for the first time since Lewis can remember and are the healthiest team in the AFC North.
» Even though they leaped to 12th from 27th in defense, the Bengals kept trying to give defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer more weapons to rush the passer to improve on the paltry 39 sacks of the last two seasons. Enter not only Maualuga, who they think can be a good blitzer, but also a pair of former Cowboys in tackle Tank Johnson and Roy Williams they believe can help their situational matchups, as well as the athletically-gifted Michael Johnson.
» Linebacker, like running back, wide receiver and safety, goes from being one of the thinnest spots on the team to one of the deepest. Hard Knocks should love the Jeanty-Maualuga battle. The classic ballyhooed rookie vs. the solid anonymous veteran. And, after all, Jeanty's nickname is actually Hard Knocks because of his steel-rod-in-the-leg toughness and hardscrabble background.
But Maualuga also has a compelling story. Before his father died of cancer a few years ago, his parents and brother lived with him on the floor above the Temple of Faith Church in Oxnard, Calif. After signing the paper Wednesday, some memories flooded back when asked if he ever thought it possible to have so much money.
"I've never had anything like it," he said. "You dream about it. You sit in bed and all you can do is tell yourself hopefully one day something will come. A good job. You watch all these athletes and how they come from low poverty homes to making it big time. That's all you can do is dream and hope one day it will happen."
His mother lives in an apartment in Eureka, Calif., but there will be no rush to buy a house. His mother, he says, is going to be in charge of the money.
"She's taken care of me for 22 years, why not?" Maualuga said. "My mother is a good person. What we have now is what we enjoy. It's not like we're going to go buy this and that."
Maualuga is a breed of player with whom the Bengals have tried to stock the locker room. No one may remember that the second moon mission landed on the Ocean of Storms. But they think he's a second-rounder people will remember. He may have problems on the field trying to do too much, but he's tough and, the club believes, committed to football. It's one of the reasons the Bengals believe the offseason workout program has taken them off on such a good foot.
The Ravens go into camp, according to one report, with nine players on PUP. The Browns are more secretive, but three players are already on a non-participation list to start camp and tight end Steve Heiden (ACL surgery) and running back Jamal Lewis (scope) also aren't expected to be ready or limited. The Steelers look to be healthy, but center Justin Hartwig recently broke a toe and while he's expected to play in the opener he probably won't be ready for the start of camp.
After Lewis pledged to "look at everything we do," head strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton did his part by dipping into his ample research files. With the aid of associate strength and conditioning coach Ray Oliver, Morton put the club through a different type of regimen that went back to basics and focused on competition as well as rest in the workouts that began in late March.
"I read about 70 articles and talked to people that were smarter than me," Morton said.
Before the players broke camp last month, Morton gave an example. Only one agility drill in the daily routine was pre-programmed. All the others were races between groups. The lifting portion wasn't as sharply defined in a competition, but Morton said the simpler format with fewer exercises and bigger loads made it easier for the players to know who was doing what.
He also broke up the first eight weeks. The first four were devoted to just strength and conditioning. The next four weeks the position coaches got the players on the field doing what Morton said were "very skill specific drills" with a time allotment.
Morton's research revealed that rest could be a big factor, so they cut back from four weeks of three voluntary workouts to 3-2-3-2. He also tipped his cap to rehab trainer Nick Cosgray and injured players like defensive end Robert Geathers and safety Marvin White.
Geathers had the delicate procedure of microfracture knee surgery done after his Nov. 20 injury in Pittsburgh and White had reconstructive knee surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament in mid-December.
"We had players that were self-starters and with Nick overseeing it, they were able to come back seamlessly," Morton said.