I talked about how Johnson might do this season here but stats aside, he is the leader of this defense on the field. The term “quarterback of the defense” gets used so much it’s cliche but Johnson is the guy who gets everyone where they need to be. Once he has everyone lined up he then makes the plays both against the run and against the pass to shut down opposing offenses.
Johnson’s ability to read and react is so good that he can meet running backs on the line before anyone has a chance to block him. Just ask J.J. Watt how it feels to be cut down by Johnson before you even have a chance to get your feet under you. It is hard to believe that at one point Johnson was considered by his head coach to be in need of benching.
Mauga had himself quite a season in 2015 finishing with 58 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions despite missing two games. While his tackle totals were down from the previous year where he took over for Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs have found themselves a very solid starter in Mauga. As long as he is paired with a better read and react guy like Johnson, Mauga can plug gaps and cover running backs as good as anyone.
Ideally the Chiefs would like someone above Mauga’s ability to challenge him in camp so that they can have a plan in place for when Johnson retires. It doesn’t look like that individual is ready at this time seeing as the closest is Ramik Wilson. If the Chiefs want to use Mauga as their replacement for Johnson next season then he will have to show more in 2016.
Hali is also recovering from a surgery of his own and may not participate much in camp but he should be ready for the regular season. He has been a fan favorite and an All-Decade player for most of his career but it is winding down. He has probably one more great season and two more productive seasons in him at this point but the Chiefs will be careful how they use him. It is still hoped that Dee Ford will blossom under Hali’s tutelage and if that doesn’t work then the Chiefs will want Hali around to help groom the next prospect.
As hopeful as I am for a speedy Houston recovery I cannot in good conscience put him as the starter for day one. The fastest and most productive recovery example in the NFL is Adrian Peterson and his surgery was in early January, Houston had surgery in February. Ford is the primary replacement for both outside linebackers and against San Diego he proved that he can dominate lesser competition. However, great players find a way to be productive even against tougher opponents.
Ford was manhandled by the two stellar tackles of the Cleveland Browns when the Chiefs hosted them in December with a playoff birth on the line. The Chiefs won the game but with no pressure on Johnny Manziel it made for a touch and go fourth quarter. The Chiefs need to see big strides from Ford in camp or he may need to find another team next March.