Now that he’s proven he can play with the big boys every Sunday, Fallon’s Josh Mauga has even more to prove this year.
After registering 103 tackles and starting all 16 games last year, Mauga’s back with the Chiefs in the starting role and out to show that 2014 was not a fluke. Despite his last two seasons ending early in New York because of separate injuries (pectoral and back), Mauga came to Kansas City last summer on life support.
Will he stay healthy? Will he make the roster? Could he break out and make a difference?
Answer to all three: yes.
“Any time you have injuries, it is frustrating,” Mauga told the Chiefs’ website. “Having one back-to-back like I did, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a chance to play again.”
Mauga was one of 39 players in the NFL to break the 100-tackle barrier last season after filling in for the injured Joe Mays, who went down during the preseason. Mauga didn’t flinch and showed that he was born to start in the NFL.
And it didn’t hurt that Mauga had some connections to help him through the transition.
“Things have worked out even better than what I expected,” he told the team website, “and I’m very grateful for that.”
His now-retired college coach, Chris Ault, was hired as a consultant after leaving Nevada two years ago. Two of Mauga’s defensive coaches from the Jets, including coordinator Bob Sutton, were now with the Chiefs. And because of the relationships he developed in New York, Mauga was able to fit in nicely with the Chiefs’ defense.
“Mauga, he knows the system,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told the media after Week 1. “He was a starter in the nickel package for the Jets, and he’s a good football player. That’s why we brought him in, to give him that opportunity to play, at that time backup, and now he’s asked to start.”
But that was 2014.
What should we expect for 2015?
While a depth chart will not be released until after training camp starts, Mauga enters as one of inside linebacker starters for a linebacker corps that features a lot of talent.
Justin Houston had a great season with 22 total sacks, 0.5 away from tying the league record, and was signed to a long-term deal and Derrick Johnson, who missed most of last year, returns from an Achilles injury. Former first-round pick Dee Ford, 10-year vet Tamba Hali and ex-Nevada teammate James Michael-Johnson are back, Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander come to camp after being drafted in May.
The Chiefs will hope last year’s growing pains will make the team stronger in 2015.
They missed the playoffs last year after being saddled with injuries on both sides of the ball. But this year, Kansas City faces a tough division led by Peyton Manning and the Broncos while the Chiefs will play teams from the AFC and NFC North, including a trip to Lambeau Field in September and hosting the Steelers just before Halloween.
The first preseason game is Aug. 15 at Arizona, followed by home contests against Seattle and Tennessee and the preseason finale on the road in St. Louis.