Posted: 5:20 p.m.
For the first time in his seven seasons as Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis is set to start the same middle linebacker on consecutive Opening Days with Dhani Jones on Sunday against the Broncos.
But he has made a change next to Jones. Rookie Rey Maualuga said Monday before practice that he has been told he'll start at SAM linebacker in his NFL debut at Paul Brown Stadium. He's the only rookie of the 22 starters, although Kevin Huber is to punt and Quan Cosby is to return punts.
Maualuga made sure he thanked Rashad Jeanty, the incumbent that has started at SAM in 22 of the last 24 games dating back to 2007.
"Rashad's been there every day helping me out and when he sees me doing something wrong in practice, and when I come off the sidelines, he'll make sure he'll tell me what I did wrong and coach me up," Maualuga said.
Yeah, this stuff does matter. Here's a consensus first-team All-American who was named the nation's top defensive player last year. But told he was starting…
"I can't even ... there are no words," Maualuga said. "I'm just so happy. I'm excited everything fell into place. All you can do is come out and practice hard and you'll be rewarded in the end. It doesn't end there. I have to keep my spot and work even harder just to stay on top."
Maualuga had a scare early in training camp when a sore shoulder and sore leg muscles knocked him out of about a week of practice and the preseason opener. But he roared into the last three games for 12 tackles.
"I had to make sure I kept my head in the playbook and make sure I didn't fall behind, not one time," he said. "I didn't want a play to come into the huddle and not know what I was doing and miss my assignments."
Maualuga got a sense of what happens when it doesn't work out. He went for a horse carriage ride in downtown Cincinnati over the weekend with tight end Kolomona Kapanui, a guy that didn't make the roster.
"He got it; he left this morning," Maualuga said. "It's hard. That's the thing about going to the next level. It's all business. You gain friendships and establish relationships with other guys. You just have to understand that part. You come here to win games and go home."