Updated: 4:40 p.m.
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, as is his style on and off the field, bared his soul Thursday during his most extensive interview of the season.
Maualuga, who signed a two-year deal back in March that took many in Bengaldom by surprise, said that makes two us. He didn't think he was coming back after a disappointing performance in the Wild Card playoff game. In fact, his family didn't want him to because of the storm of abuse he received via Twitter and talk radio.
"They're behind me, so whatever decision I make they're for it," Maualuga said. "They just want me to be happy. Why come where I don't feel welcome?"
But the three voices who were his staunchest defenders were the most important in the trio of head coach Marvin Lewis, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and linebackers coach Paul Guenther. Maualuga took a free-agent visit to Arizona and the Cardinals wanted to sign him before he left the building. He was the only one of the four visitors that didn't sign.
"I'm not going to go to another team because I didn't feel welcome by the fans," Maualuga said. "If they could do it better than I could they'd be in my position."
With the coaches in his ear, mainly Lewis, Maualuga was sold on coming back to the same defense and locker room.
"If the coaches didn't want me here, I would not be here," Maualuga said. "I could give a rat's (butt) about the critics.
"All I can do is play. Give me a call and I'll go out and execute to the best of my ability."
Maualuga gets his shot Thursday to get his first chance to hit during a Family Night practice from 6-8 p.m., where Lewis is going to have a live period of tackling and blocking. He's also going to have NFL referees working the scrimmages.
Maualuga has a pretty good idea where the desire to rip him comes from. Remember, he was named the best defensive player in the nation while playing in between Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews. They've become elite Pro Bowlers in the NFL while Maualuga has struggled to be consistent.
"It comes down to Cushing won Rookie of the Year, Clay Matthews just blew up and became this phenomenal player," Maualuga said. "I'm pretty sure that's what everyone's thinking. Where's the guy that we drafted from 'SC? I hear that all the ... time."
While Lewis was on the horn, Zimmer was on the airwaves and in print backing up his middle backer despite what went on in Houston. After all, during Maualuga's two seasons in the middle the Bengals had finished seventh and sixth, respectively, in the NFL in defense in 2011 and 2012.
"I don't look at what I did, what I brought to the team. I just know that I'm happy here," Maualuga said. "I'm happy with the group of guys that I'm surrounded by when I'm out there taking the field – the D line in front of me, the linebackers inside of me feel comfortable. I feel free knowing I just have to worry about my position and these guys are going to do what they're supposed to do. We brought the same people back."
And during that trip to Arizona, Maualuga had something else pulling him back to Cincinnati for a two-year deal he says was similar to what the Cards had on the table. (Figure about $6 million total).
"I haven't been to another team, so I don't know how it feels. But the guys who come here from other teams say the locker room and the camaraderie is like no other. It's different," he said. "I'm here for two years until they cut me and try to be the best middle linebacker I can be."
What drowned out Twitter and the insults and the talk shows was the fact Maualuga knows his role and what's expected and that he can go upstairs to Zimmer and Guenther and ask them what he can do to get better every day.
"I can really break it down and get back to basics," said Maualuga, knowing exactly what has hampered his development. "Attention to detail. Slowing down. Reading my keys. Making the plays I'm supposed to make."
Indeed, it's the easy plays that have given him the hardest times. Over-running tackles. Letting tight ends glide off the line of scrimmage. Ending up in the wrong gap.
And Guenther has supplied Maualuga with his motto.
Fifty percent of the people are going to talk bad about you. Fifty percent are going to say good things. But 100 percent are going to be talking. Ignore the noise.
Maualuga has to ignore his own noise. He said in the hours after the Houston game that if that he were on a free-agent tryout, he figured he was gone.
"I made an assumption based on my performance. I didn't do so well, so why would someone want that person?" he said. "That's how I felt. Frustrated. Upset. Mad. Angry. Not at the world. Not at the team. You only get mad at yourself."
And he says he won't swear off Twitter.
"Why? Those people are still going to be talking bad behind my back about me," he said. "After a game I'm going to have 80-100 tweets and I know what they are going to say. I don't (mind it). I laugh at it. It sucks but I want it to be flipped around."
He says he feels good, he feels comfortable, and he's talking like a five-year veteran should. Maualuga welcomes the arrival of AFC North icon James Harrison next to him at SAM, but he's not abdicating his leadership in the middle.
"A little bit," Maualuga said of Harrison taking off some of the pressure. "But at the same time I'm the veteran in the scheme. So there are times when he may help me out with a technique, or how to handle certain things, or how to escape a block. But at the same time I'm helping him with the play, where to line up, what to do. We're both helping each other get better at what we need to get better. Whether it's making plays or playcalling, improving on technique."
Maualuga goes into a season for a fifth time a little bruised, a little battered, but also a little wiser.
"It is about the Who Dey Nation and Cincinnati and the fans that love this team. At the same time I'm not here to make them happy," he said. "I have a job to be here and be the best linebacker I can be to help this team win some games and eventually gain some respect from them. If they don't care, all I can do is play. Line me up, give me a call and I will execute it to the best of my ability. At the end of the day if the front office and coaches are not satisfied they will find someone else to replace me. "
But that doesn't look like that's happening for a while.
"Until then – Rey Maualuga, middle linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals," he said.