MOBILE, Ala. - Rey Maualuga, the heart-and-soul of USC's history-making defense, is working out with the Bengals' Keith Rivers this offseason partly because Rivers's No. 55 drove him to be better. So it would make sense if the NFL Draft reunited them in Cincinnati.
"I would love to," said Maualuga of the prospect of playing next to Rivers next season as he checked in Sunday at the Senior Bowl. "Two Trojan linebackers back-to-back again. For me, my big deal is to get discovered. (The NFL) knows my name, but they don't know how I practice, compete, play. Give everything I've got today, during the week, to basically go out and do what I've been doing."
And that is become the best middle linebacker in this game with Ohio State's James Laurinaitis choosing not to play. He'll play for the South Saturday opposite a Bengals coaching staff that is expected to be considering Maualuga very seriously with the sixth pick in April.
Although left tackles Eugene Monroe of Virginia and Jason Smith of Baylor are now not coming to the Senior Bowl, Mississippi left tackle Michael Oher and Wake Forest defensive end/outside linebacker Aaron Curry are other potential top 10 picks in the game.
They'll also be playing for the South, but that won't stop the Bengals from getting a nice long look at the 6-2, 260-pound Maualuga. He's as advertised off the field with a big, charismatic presence. On Sunday he wore a T-shirt subtly observing Barack Obama's election as president.
Then he broke into a smile.
"Nah," he said, "I'm just kidding."
But what he's not kidding about is the No. 58 he wore at USC and the No. 55 Rivers wore next to him at WILL linebacker.
"He made me the player that I am by competing and always wanting to be the best," Maualuga said. "Obviously Coach (Pete Carroll) expects a lot from a player that wears 55. At times, it was kind of jealously. You always want to be better than the player next to you."
Maualuga has been kidding Rivers that "58 is the new 55 at school," with Seattle Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu doing nicely in the middle after a run wearing 58 at USC. He says the 58s are now in competition with the 55s. "Polynesian descent. It's something we can hopefully start," he said. **
ON GUARD:** During his travels Sunday, Maualuga stopped to say hello to Pac-10 rival Alex Mack, the University of California's highly-regarded center. Mack was in a deep discussion with Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander as he discussed the depth chart.
It's a piece of paper that also has another big-time Pac 10 center in Oregon's Max Unger. Alexander told Mack he wants to get both of them on the field, so Mack will be playing some left guard, too, even though he's never played it before.
But that's a rite of passage every college center has to make in the transition to the pros. They've got to play at least a little guard, which Mack in no way minds.
"That means I get to play the whole game, right?" asked Mack with a big smile.
With an even bigger smile, Alexander told him, "We've got to see what we've got."
It's also happening for the South. Another top center, Louisville's Eric Wood via Cincinnati's Elder High School, is listed as a guard for Saturday. So what else is new for Alexander? After a season he had to juggle the left side of his line, he not only had to contend with Monroe's absence but he also doesn't have a top prospect in Oklahoma guard Duke Robinson. **
HUNLEY SIGHTING:** Former Bengals linebackers coach Ricky Hunley surfaced here Sunday, which means he's still in the job market. He didn't hook on in the NFL last year after leaving the Bengals, but he volunteered to coach the West in last week's East-West Shrine all-star game and served as what he called head coach Gene Stallings's "de facto defensive coordinator and linebackers coach."
The always popular Hunley has moved to Los Angeles, where his daughters are continuing their fine basketball careers after playing in the Sycamore schools in suburban Cincinnati. His oldest is a senior trying to decide among his alma mater of Arizona, Drexel, Loyola Marymount and Cal-San Diego, and is waiting to hear from some Ivy League schools.
"I was just a dad last season and that was fun," said Hunley, who's hoping connections with some new head coaches as well as coordinators helps him this week.
PROGRESS: The Bengals are going to be here so long this week that the stint is going to cover two U.S. presidencies. But Travis Brammer, the Bengals video director, is used to being on the cutting edge.
How long ago is 2004 in the NFL world?
The last time the Bengals coached the North here, Brammer used only tape. After setting up Sunday night's initial team meeting, he was talking about how he and his staff of Kent Stearman and Ricky Palmer had transferred the Bengals digitized network to the Senior Bowl headquarters.
"Just like your tape recorder," said Brammer, nodding at a reporter's non-tape recorder. "Everything is digital. We've got a little smaller server than the one we have at home, but we basically brought everything down from up north. This is a mini training camp for us."
They clearly won't need all of it, but the coaches have the NFL's entire 2008 season at their disposal. Brammer's crew is going to have three cameras at the North's morning practices and they'll come back, download, edit, and have cutups ready for the afternoon and night meetings.
"It's a great teaching tool for the players," said Brammer, who figures to have about 1,000 hours of extra space on the server this week.