2014 Chiefs Positional Review: the Inside Linebackers

For various teams in the National Football League, players, especially very good ones, can become synonymous with their respective franchises.

Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson is that type of player for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since being drafted in 2005, Johnson has only worn Chiefs red and gold, and heading into 2014, history awaited him.

18 tackles stood between Johnson and officially tying the franchise record, an opportunity he earned through nine years of service, during which he never played in fewer than 13 games.

In training camp, Johnson was asked how he stayed so healthy despite being 31, an age considered to be on the older side in the NFL.

"The little things," he said. "The older I've gotten, the more I've taken care of my body, and listened to my body. When you're tired, rest.  Do little 'pre-hab' stuff during your rest time, just to keep the little muscles strong like the groins, hamstrings, hips and everything.

"You've got to be accountable, and being accountable means that you're out here available on the field."

But then all of a sudden, he wasn't available. He couldn't be accountable. He was out for the year.

Johnson was carted off the field in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and he was placed on injured reserve.

"He's a great player," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told the media after the game. "But I expect other players to step up and do the job. When given the opportunity, we want that to happen."

The player given that opportunity was Josh Mauga, an inside linebacker familiar with defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's scheme from their time together with the Jets. Filling in for Johnson against the Titans, he recorded eight tackles and moving forward, he would be the permanent replacement.

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"Mauga, he knows the system," Reid said at the time. "That's one thing. He was a starter in the nickel package for the Jets, and he's a good football player, overall a good football player. That's why we brought him, to give him that opportunity to play, at that time backup, and now he's asked to start."

Mauga would go on to have a very successful season. As the play caller for the Chiefs, he led the defense to the fewest touchdowns rushing allowed and second fewest points allowed in the NFL, all while recording a team-high 103 total tackles.

Next to him on his right, James-Michael Johnson similarly filled in for an injured Joe Mays, who after signing with the Chiefs, sprained his wrist in the preseason and was out for the first 12 weeks as he recovered from surgery.

By season's end, Johnson compiled 51 total tackles and Mays, who split time upon returning, finished the season with 20 total tackles.

Though the unit was part of the second best defense in the league at stopping the pass, the major weakness for the Chiefs all year was their ability to stop the run, as they finished 28th in the league.

That said, the credit goes to Mauga and Johnson for rising to the challenge upon being thrown into the fire. In training camp, they thought they would have secondary roles.

But as primary defenders, they helped lead the Chiefs to nine victories.

Highlights of the 2014 Kansas City Chiefs' inside linebackers.

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