Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson Talks Legacy, Adversity and Sean Smith's Return

Johnson is looking forward to getting back on the field after back-to-back losses

When Derrick Johnson talks, people should be listening.

That's the kind of respect the new leading tackler in Kansas City Chiefs franchise history has earned throughout his 11 seasons of leading the Chiefs defense.

Last Monday against the Green Bay Packers, Johnson put an exclamation point on an already-storied career early in the third quarter with a tackle of Packers running back James Starks. It was the 1,000th tackle of Johnson's career and moved him past former Chiefs great Gary Spani for the all-time record.

Going into that game, Johnson only needed 5 tackles for the record and he admitted that he knew the moment he became the all-time leader.

"I did," he said with a smile. "It was one of those things where I'm on the sideline and I looked up on the screen and it said I had four tackles.

"Then I'm like, 'Okay, one more.'"

On first-and-10 from the Packers' 2-yard line just five minutes into the third quarter, Johnson stepped up into the hole and brought down Starks for a gain of just 3 yards.

Just like that, the former Waco High School Lion and Texas Longhorns linebacker established himself as the best in the history of the Chiefs organization in the most basic statistic in all of football on a skill most associated with the sport—tackling the guy with the ball.

Johnson has now done that more than anyone to ever wear the red and gold.

A collection of photos from 2015 and the career of Chiefs all-time leading tackler Derrick Johnson.

"It was bittersweet because you're always focused on getting a win," Johnson said of breaking the record in the loss to the Packers, "but it was a humbling experience. Even though I knew as long as I stayed healthy it was coming, when it finally hit me, especially at home just looking up in the air, I felt very blessed."

When asked what he wants that record to say about him 15 years down the road, Johnson said he wants to be remembered as reliable and selfless.

"I want that record to speak volumes that this guy was tough, this guy was reliable," he said. "If you were looking for a linebacker to make a play, Derrick Johnson was probably one of the first guys to make a play for us.

"Just a guy that was a team guy, all about winning, trying to make the guy next to me better. I have played with a lot of good guys around me, too, so I can't take all of the credit."

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As appreciative as he is of the record and what it will mean when his career is finished, Johnson is happy all of the talk about it is now behind him and he can focus on picking up a win on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals (3-0), who come into that game as one of the most impressive and balanced teams in the NFL through the first three games of the season.

"They're a very explosive offense," Johnson explained. [Quarterback] Andy Dalton is hot right now, and it's going to be hard to stop him going into their place.

"It's a great opportunity and a great challenge for us, but when the opportunity sees itself, we have to show up to the task. We'll come out a lot better than we did last week."

Despite the back-to-back losses over the past two weeks, Johnson explained that this group is different than some of the teams he played on earlier in his career that struggled to win games throughout entire seasons.

"The difference with this team is we're a lot more tough-minded," Johnson explained. "We've got a different swagger to us and we're a very confident group. Our confidence comes from Andy Reid—he's at the top of the food chain and it spreads all throughout.

"If you ever want to do something great in life or in football, you have to go through a little adversity. The good thing is it's still early in the season, but we're a confident group and we have to show what we really have."

Johnson has returned from the Achilles injury that cost him his entire 2014 season better than most expected. He's still one of the best inside linebackers in football and has consistently showed the closing speed that has been most associated with his playmaking ability throughout his career.

As they prepare for their matchup with a red-hot Bengals team on Sunday, Johnson is excited to get one big piece of their defense back this week as veteran cornerback Sean Smith returns after a three-game suspension.

"I'm already smiling about Sean Smith being back," Johnson said. "That's going to be a great addition to our defense. He's our number one corner. Of course we've got Marcus Peters and those guys playing really well, but Sean Smith is a veteran in this league. Big corner, about my size. He's a guy who's going to be on the number on receiver, and we need that from our secondary just to make our defense more whole.

"It's going to be great man, I can't wait until Sunday."

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