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Rey Maualuga a key cog for Bengals, Marvin Lewis says

The Cincinnati Bengals' coaching staff has been circling the wagons since a report late last week that the team would "pass on re-signing" linebacker Rey Maualuga.

"He's one of the guys you got to get back in the fold," Marvin Lewis told Around The League's Gregg Rosenthal on Sunday.

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Lewis stopped short of relaying how hard the Bengals would push to bring back Maualuga, saying he doesn't know the plans of the 31 other teams who will have a chance to sign the free agent starting March 12.

"(Maualuga) 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," Mike Zimmer told the Bengals' website Sunday. "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."

The equation to Justin Smith, who has jump-started the San Francisco 49ers' defense since he left the Bengals for the West Coast offense in 2008 via free agency, will make some Cincinnati fans jumpy.

The assumption in Cincinnati is that Vontaze Burfict will take over at middle linebacker after a superb rookie season on the weak side. Zimmer said if Maualuga is brought back, the coach could see him moving back to the strong side, where he played his first two seasons.

Follow Kevin Patra on Twitter @kpatra.

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