Chiefs linebacker Josh Mauga has already proven that he can overcome just about anything set in his path.
John Rieger/John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Finally healthy and given a shot to start, linebacker Josh Mauga suddenly leads the resurgent Kansas City Chiefs in tackles nearing the midway point of the season.
Never heard of him? The New York Jets can give you a primer.
When they visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, they will gaze across the field at the very same linebacker that they decided was washed up. Mauga struggled with so many injuries the past couple seasons that the Jets finally let him go, only for him to find a home in Kansas City.
Not only did Mauga earn a job in training camp, he quickly became the starter when Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson tore his Achilles tendon in the season opener.
Whirlwind? You bet. But in the best way possible.
"Absolutely," Mauga said. "Trying to fill in for D.J. was kind of tough the first couple weeks, trying to take on that new role, but I take advice from him and Joe Mays and get with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. They help me with every snap, every play out there."
Not that he needs a whole lot of help.
Mauga has already proven that he can overcome just about anything set in his path.
His history of injuries began in college at Nevada, where he was first sidelined by a knee injury. Later on, Mauga tore a pectoral muscle, playing through the injury most of the season.
He went undrafted in 2009 in part because of his injury history, in part because he simply didn’t get on the field enough to show scouts what he could do. But the Jets decided to take a chance on him, signing him as a free agent and giving him a shot to earn a job in camp.
He was still snake-bit, though. After spending a year on the Jets practice squad, he suffered a concussion in training camp that sidelined him again. He finally made his NFL debut in 2010, and played in 16 games the following year, even making his first career start.
Then the injuries hit again: another torn pectoral two years ago, followed by a back injury in training camp last year that required surgery at the end of the season.
"Any time you have injuries, it’s frustrating," Mauga said this week, "and having back-to-back like I did, I wasn’t sure if I would get a chance to play again. But I did and I’m here and I’m just trying to take advantage of it."
The Chiefs are glad he never thought about giving up the game.
Mauga already has 47 tackles, more than a dozen more than Ron Parker, who ranks second on the team. His best performance came a few weeks ago, when he had 10 stops in a game at San Francisco.
"Everybody’s got certain roles," Chiefs linebackers coach Gary Gibbs said. "They have to understand their responsibilities. Everybody approaches it differently. In Josh’s case he’s been out for a year or so, coming off an injury, so he’s had to knock some rust off."
The reality is he’ll never be confused for tackling machines such as Carolina’s Luke Kuechly and Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David. He surely won’t be confused for Johnson, either.
But Mauga has proven to be a reliable fill-in, and is a big reason why Kansas City still has the NFL’s second-best defense heading into Sunday’s game against the Jets.
"I think Josh has done a really good job and, again as we’ve mentioned, a guy that has been out all last year basically with an injury," said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who was an assistant coach with the Jets when Mauga broke into the league.
"He’s starting to come along very well, and done a good job and understands the defense and can get everyone lined up. That’s a real bonus for a guy that walks in and has to take over that role. He’s a real smart football player."