KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The stress of game week preparations were in full bloom Wednesday at the Chiefs training facility.
But running back Joe McKnight, offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and linebacker Josh Mauga experienced a separate anxiety after the final preseason game.
McKnight, Duvernay-Tardif and Mauga were among a group of players waiting on the Chiefs to make moves to reach the 53-man roster. The notifications eventually arrived Saturday, and the dedication during the offseason, training camp and preseason led to the trio receiving good news.
They made it.
“It was a sigh of relief,” McKnight said of making the team. “I was stressing over it, trying to make sure I did what I had to do to make this squad since I got here. The running back pool is very talented, so I stayed on everything. For them to keep me just lets me know that the hard work has paid off.”
McKnight’s path wasn’t easy, as he sat out the 2013 NFL season after getting released by the New York Jets.
The Chiefs signed the fourth-year running back to a reserve/future deal in January. But he missed the first half of training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list while recovering from a knee scope.
McKnight missed the first two preseason games before playing in the final two contests. His performance in the final preseason game may have put him over the edge after he rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
“The hard-and-grind days I missed,” McKnight said. “I was kind of anxious, didn’t think I did enough so I could be on the team, but they kept me.”
Like McKnight, Mauga missed time during training camp with a groin injury, which caused him to miss the second and third preseason games. The fifth-year linebacker returned for the preseason finale and recorded three tackles (one solo).
The Chiefs signed Mauga a day before training camp after he missed the 2013 season on injured reserve with a back injury and the 2012 season with a torn pectoral muscle while with the Jets. Mauga didn’t waste time catching attention and worked with the first-team defense whenever Joe Mays rotated out or rested.
But the lost practices caused apprehension.
“Missing those two weeks,” Mauga said, “I wasn’t sure where my status was. Being able to play in that last game meant a lot to me. I tried to go out there and do my best, and then after that just waiting to see what happens.”
He’s more than made the team. Mauga said he was informed he will start at left inside linebacker while Mays recovers from surgery to repair ligament damage in his right wrist. The Chiefs on Tuesday placed Mays on injured reserve with a designation for return.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs used the second of two sixth-round draft picks on Duvernay-Tardif during May’s NFL Draft.
The 6-5, 321-pound offensive lineman was viewed as a project out of McGill University in Quebec, Canada. But he emerged late in training camp to command second-team repetitions at left guard and eventually securing a spot on the team’s initial 53-man roster.
Duvernay-Tardif said making the NFL was extra special when he learned his good friend and fellow Canadian, David Foucault, made the Panthers.
“I think hopefully if we’re able to do the good things in the NFL,” Duvernay-Tardif said, “it’s going to maybe show scouts and some team there’s some good talent north of the border, and maybe they’ll start to look into it. That’s my goal. I want to represent Montreal. I want to represent Quebec. That’s what I try to do every day.”
Still, just making the initial roster isn’t good enough.
Maintaining the status quo could lead to complacency, and that won’t fly in an occupation where other players are more than willing to step in and take jobs.
Duvernay-Tardif and McKnight understand they must prove they belong with a view to eventually contribute.
“I know I have a couple of things I need to fix in hindsight,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “I need to play with more anticipation and master the playbook from A to Z in order to get on the field as soon as possible.”
“I just have to keep pushing,” he said, “keep fighting and try and show up to make plays. I know camp is over. I missed half the camp, but I still have a chance to make plays, do what I have to do so the coaches see me and put me in.”