Maualuga on his way back

After USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga turned UCLA quarterback Patrick Cowan into a grease spot on the sideline of the 2007 rivalry matchup, Bruin and Trojan fans alike wondered if the 6-foot-2 Samoan man-killer should be institutionalized.

Honestly, three years of watching Maualuga charge into other Pac-10 stadiums, ravage and plunder offenses and set sail with his opponent’s pride was enough to make even the most bloodthirsty sports fan question the mental stability of USC’s most notorious defensive weapon.

But when Maualuga plowed his car into two parked vehicles and a parking meter on Jan. 29 with the ferocity he once used to greet meandering tailbacks, the NFL rookie was forced to seek help of a different sort.  After pleading guilty to a DUI and accepting two years probation, Maualuga checked into an alcohol rehabilitation center.

Four weeks later, the Cincinnati Bengal’s favorite convict (with apologies to Chris Henry) is back from rehab with a glint in his eye, blood on his teeth and a brand new attitude.

“All I can say is you’re looking at a different guy,” Maualuga told reporters on Monday during the Bengal’s first offseason workout.  “I got what I needed when I went in.  It was a life-changer for me.”

The second-round pick from last year’s NFL draft helped lead the Bengals to an AFC North Championship last year with 63 tackles and a sack.

This year Maualuga looks to solidify his role in the starting lineup and learn to distinguish between Patrick Cowan and stationary vehicles.

“This year is a different year, and it’s my year,” Maualuga said.  “I’m going to come out and give it everything I got.”