Kansas City has a linebacker dilemma.
Josh Mauga is playing the best football of his career and stated his case emphatically on Sunday why he should remain in the starting lineup.
In a 22-17 loss to San Francisco, Mauga was all over the field notching 10 tackles, gobbling up blocks and running sideline to sideline with ease.
After missing last season due to a back injury, Mauga wasn’t sure he would play again. The NFL is a cutthroat business and has no time for injured career backups.
Despite his history, Mauga rehabilitated and signed with Kansas City in the summer after spending his first four years with the New York Jets. A preseason injury to scheduled starting inside linebacker Joe Mays opened the door for Mauga.
And the Fallon star has taken this opportunity and ran with it. He leads the club in tackles, makes defensive calls and has become a leader for the unit, which was decimated by injury to open the season.
Even though three starters were lost — two for the season — Kansas City has regrouped the past three weeks, led by a more inspired effort from the defense.
But the next two weeks will be critical for coach Andy Reid. The Chiefs are on their bye week and Mays’ injury called for a six- to eight-week timeline.
The irony, though, is Mays is eligible to return from injured reserve in Week 9 against the Jets.
Where would that leave Mauga?
He’s done nothing wrong to be removed from the lineup and bolstered his case on Sunday. Many coaches, though, do not believe in a starter losing their spot to injury.
Nevertheless, it’s an issue facing Mauga. When asked about this on Sunday, he politely dodged the question and said it will be great to have Mays back.
No question Mays can help the defense and perhaps a three-man rotation will be in the works with Mauga, Mays and James-Michael Johnson.
But Mauga’s biggest asset is his ability to be a three-down linebacker in a league where that is becoming increasingly rare.
Offenses are throwing a furious rate and few linebackers have the speed, agility or instincts to keep up with running backs or tight ends. Mauga is showing he has all three.
Reid should know by now Mauga’s soft-spoke manner is beneficial when so many “experts” fell the rah-rah, barbaric grunts define “leadership.” Mauga is a leader and is doing so through his play.
What this first five weeks of the season shows is Mauga can handle the rigors of the NFL, both physically and mentally.
Admittedly shocked when named the opening-day starter, Mauga has not let his success manifest into entitlement. He knows how the business works and the fragility of a career.
Plus, he is playing lights out on a team with playoff aspirations. His unit has been stellar in the last three weeks but was not helped by a bad offense on Sunday.
Still, this has been his breakout year with more to come. Whether he finishes the season as a starter or not, his play will allow him to continue his career barring injury.
He signed a one-year, $645,000 contract with Kansas City, so even if his role is diminished, he has enough film to show other teams he can handle a starting position.
His options are growing with each game and it may be a one-year stop in the Midwest they way he continues to thrive.
Steve Puterski is the sports editor for the Lahontan Valley News and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.