Coming into the 2015 offseason, many fans and pundits considered the Kansas City Chiefs’ inside linebacker position to be one of the most important areas to address. The Chiefs have addressed the spot in several ways, but none of the moves that were made can be described as strong investments. Re-signing Josh Mauga was a major head scratcher, and while there is some reason for optimism with Ramik Wilson and DJ Alexander, neither comes without big questions. In fact, even with the moves that were made, the Chiefs almost seem to have as many questions at inside linebacker today as they did at the end of the 2014 season.
Derrick Johnson has been one of the more popular, and important, Chiefs players in recent history. Does the team have a good plan for eventually replacing him? Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Over the past couple of seasons, Derrick Johnson has emerged as the captain of the Chiefs defense. We have seen him step up in terms of both leadership and production. And without him running the defense from that interior spot, the Chiefs run defense looked like something out of the Pop Warner leagues.
Fortunately, he is back and fans are excited to see just how much better this defense can be when the opposing offense can’t break off 100 yards on the ground before the half. But DJ will be turning 33 this season and is coming off an achilles injury that ruined his 2014 campaign. While I am sure he will help upgrade our defense, there is no way to expect that he can be the same player he was over the next three or four years. The Chiefs will need someone not only similar in talent, but in leadership quality as well. That’s a tough thing to find.
Josh Mauga earned a lot of scorn from Chiefs fans in 2015. He will have a lot to prove if he wants to win them back. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
It definitely took most Chiefs fans by surprise when the team re-signed Josh Mauga. In 2014, both he and James Michael-Johnson put up a performance that was forgettable at best. Mauga’s experience with Bob Sutton’s defense didn’t help him fill in for Derrick Johnson. And while nobody expected him to play to DJ’s level, we were certainly hoping he would be competent. We were sorely disappointed.
Mauga lacks a nose for the ball. While some fans will point to his 100+ (combined) tackles, the film shows that many of those tackles came well beyond the line of scrimmage. And an even more damaging statistic is the lack of playmaking occurrences. Mauga accounted for .5 sacks, 3 passes defensed, and 3 tackles for loss. For comparisons, let’s look at Derrick Johnson’s 2013 numbers: 4.5 sacks, 2 fumbles recovered, 2 interceptions, 6 passes defensed, and 9 tackles for loss. That is a night-and-day difference.
Mauga looks to be the current starter next to Johnson. Whether this is a better fit for him remains to be seen, but one would have to believe that Bob Sutton championed his re-signing. I’m sure DJ’s health also played a factor, meaning Mauga will remain the primary backup in an injury situation. But that’s still not a lot to be happy about.
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