When he arrived in Kansas City last summer, not many Chiefs fans knew the name Josh Mauga. However, Defensive Coordinator, Bob Sutton, knew the inside linebacker well from their time together with the New York Jets.
Last season, when All Pro Linebacker, Derrick Johnson ruptured his Achilles on opening day, the former Nevada standout was pushed into a leadership role on defense. His efforts on the field a year ago were rewarded when the Chiefs gave him a new contract.
Over the winter, General Manager, John Dorsey signed Mauga to a 3-year, $8 million contract. It was a sign of confidence for Mauga who registered 103 tackles as DJ’s understudy on the field for the Chiefs a year ago.
But can Mauga improve upon those numbers in 2015?
If he does, then he’s going to have to fight for a starters role with a pair of recent draft picks, Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander. Though Mauga has the inside track at the moment, he’ll need to step up his game this season to ward off the rookies.
Over three seasons Mauga never did much for the Jets. In Kansas City last summer, the Chiefs were thin at the position and they gave him a chance to compete in training camp.
To be fair, I doubt Sutton thought he would be thrust into a starters role so soon, but when veteran Joe Mays went down with an injury in early Summer, Mauga was the next man up.
For the most part, he responded nicely to the opportunity he was given to get into the starting lineup. However, when DJ went down with his season ending injury, Mauga had to do things he’d never been asked to do before to this point of his career.
Still for player, who had never been a starter at the NFL level, you’d have to call his turn a year ago at inside linebacker as a positive event for this defense.
This year, with DJ fully recovered from his injury, Mauga can only get better with one of the games best inside linebackers at his side. Then again, he didn’t have a pair of ball hawking; speed merchant draft picks to compete against a year ago.
The addition of Wilson and Alexander to the roster means Mauga, even though he’s the incumbent starter with a new contract, must take his game to the next level.
Most fans felt the Chiefs decision to give Mauga such a large contract was unwarranted. However, at the time Kansas City didn’t know if DJ would be back or what the NFL draft would yield at inside linebacker.
With all the moves Dorsey made in the off-season addressing the position, suddenly the Chiefs have four capable bodies they could eventually rotate into the mix. Granted two of the bodies are unproven rookie draft picks but those concerns should be erased by the fact both Wilson and Alexander have solid defensive skills.
If there is a weakness for the Chiefs defense in 2015, this would be the position that should keep Sutton on his toes between now and opening day. Sutton wanted Mauga in Kansas City last summer, and his belief in his former defender that he could indeed become a starter for the Chiefs, were certainly realized in 2014.
In getting ready for the season, Mauga isn’t someone that’s going to back down from the battle ahead. He came into the league after a solid career at Nevada and understands, that nothing is going to be handed to him. If he plays well, he’ll line up next to DJ against the Houston Texans in the season opener.
If he has a rocky August on the field, then Mauga could be relegated to a back-up role, knowing that could change on any snap.
Regardless of what shakes out, the Chiefs have more options finding two productive inside linebackers to solve the middle of their defense than at any point in Dorsey’s tenure. The good news is if Mauga and DJ can play at their peak levels, both could surpass the 100-tackle mark this season in Kansas City.
Should that occur for the Chiefs defense this season, that would mean Mauga will have earned every penny of his new contract and then some.
Photo Credits: Mark J. Rebilas USA Today Sports & Matt Kartozian USA Today Sports.