INDIANAPOLIS — Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer offered a stout defense of middle linebacker Rey Maualuga on Sunday here at the NFL Scouting Combine and said he'd like to sign him back in free agency.
"He is, as you will find out when this free agency period starts, a lot better than what a lot of people give him credit for," said Zimmer, alluding to how defensive end Justin Smith became a Pro Bowler when he left Cincinnati. "I think that's going to be what people are going to find out if he goes. If he's not here people are going to miss him and say we should have had him. That's how it works, like Justin Smith."
Zimmer likes Maualuga's versatility and the Bengals could use a starting SAM backer, which is where Maualuga played his first two seasons in the NFL. Which sends a smile fleeting across Zimmer's face.
"He can (play SAM), but if I remember correctly after his second year and Dhani (Jones) left, everyone was saying he should move to the MIKE when he played pretty good at SAM," Zimmer said. "But he's got to go to the MIKE linebacker, wasn't that what everyone was saying? 'Oh, Maualuga is going to MIKE, yeah.' Now everyone is going 'he should have stayed at SAM.' You can't win."
The conventional wisdom is that the Bengals are going to move Vontaze Burfict to the middle after his breakout rookie year at WILL.
"Be careful what you wish for," Zimmer said, "because that is what they said about Maualuga two years ago, right?"
Zimmer also confirmed that the Bengals met with Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te'o on Saturday night in a 15-minute interview and came away impressed.
"Good. Pretty sharp," Zimmer said, but he also admitted he doesn't know much about the girlfriend hoax story and the Bengals didn't spend much time on it.
"You look at it all from everything, but we didn't get too involved with that," Zimmer said. "You talk about everything, but it was a lot about football."
Zimmer says he'll use that interview.
"You find out about them from the way they handle themselves. A little bit about the background. Talk about some of those things. Just a basic first-blush talking-to for me anyway," Zimmer said. "Some guys you can tell when they get excited talking about certain things. If they don't. Stuff like that. You go back and start watching the tape; I will have known a little bit about his background, watched a little more tape."
GEATHERS DOUBLE TAKE: If the big defensive tackle from Georgia sounds, smiles and looks just like Bengals left end Robert Geathers, it's because he does. Meet Kwame Geathers, the latest star in the Geathers galaxy of family football. And Robert's "little" brother (342 pounds 60 heavier than his 29-year-old brother), smiled Sunday when asked who is the better player. Him or former Georgia teammate Geno Atkins.
"I'm a better player. I'm a better player," Geathers said and when told that Atkins is the best defensive tackle in the NFL he said, "I know. I'm coming for it."
Kwame Geathers, 22, of course, knows Atkins from his Cincinnati visits.
"I keep up with what he's doing on the field and we've talked when I've gone to visit my brother," he said.
The 6-5 Kwame really is the little brother now that he's cut eight pounds off his playing weight of 350 with an eye to 335. He's been busy. He hasn't been to a Bengals game since he was a senior in high school. His other older brother, 6-8 Clifton, a sixth-round pick of the Browns three tears ago, is now with the Colts.
Two of Kwame's linemates at Georgia are also here, but that room is not nearly as competitive as the holiday dinners.
"My family is very competitive. I would say my family because football runs in our blood. Every day no matter what we're doing we talk about football," he said.
Kwame could end up going in the same round as Robert did in 2004. A massive two-gap tackle, the knock on him is that he's pretty much only a run stopper and that he wasn't a full-time player. But the upside is he comes from a solid family serious and dedicated to the game.
"You're going to get a hard-working guy that comes into work every day who is very athletic for his size," Kwame said. "He's going to give it his all every time he steps on the field."
There's no need for the Bengals to visit with Kwame here since they met him as an eighth- grader, but they did see him in an informal setting. It all left defensive line coach Jay Hayes saying, "I feel old."
Robert is a free agent, but both sides are looking to re-up in Cincinnati for at least a 10th season. That would make him the club's first decade-long defensive lineman since nose tackle Tim Krumrie retired after his 12th season in 1994. But since the Bengals drafted defensive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson in the second and third rounds, respectively last year, don't look for a family reunion via the draft.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» The NFL Network's Mike Mayock said after Sunday's workouts that playoff teams like the Bengals "must be laughing" heading into the April 25-27 draft.
"If you're drafting 20 to 30, it's not a whole lot different than the fifth or sixth pick," he said.
» Here's a guy you know isn't going to be there when the Bengals pick at No. 21. Not after Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson destroyed the Combine on Sunday with a 4.72-second 40-yard dash, a 34-inch vertical leap, and 9-10 broad jump. Mayock observed that was faster than Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin at the 2003 Combine, the same vertical leap of Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green at the 2011 Combine and the same broad jump as Patriots running back Stevan Ridley at last year's Combine.
"Think about those three things as a 300-pound offensive lineman," Mayock said.
» After the QBs worked out Sunday, no one seemed to be flying up the ladder. Mayock said West Virginia's Geno Smith did what he did on film in the workout and threw naturally with a big arm, but he's still dogged by consistency questions that Mayock says take him out of the top 20. Mayock says Smith is more like 20-32. Florida State's E.J. Maunel had a nice day running and throwing but Mayock is still saying "this is a difficult class to figure out." Because there is so much going on with receivers and routes, Mayock is waiting to view the NFL tapes before he passes judgment on what happened Sunday. Southern Utah's Brad Sorensen, a projected fifth- to sixth-rounder, caught his eye "a couple of times."