KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Injuries to starters Derrick Johnson (Achilles) and Joe Mays (wrist) have the Chiefs sporting a new look at the inside linebacker positions just one game into the regular season.
The Chiefs already turned to Josh Mauga to fill in for Mays, who is on injured reserve with a designation for return. And now the team leans on James-Michael Johnson with Derrick Johnson on season-ending reserve.
James-Michael Johnson, who finished second on the team in preseason tackles with 14 (nine solo), is ready for the increased role.
“It’s always bad to lose a guy like Derrick,” he said Wednesday. “You can’t really replace him. He’s a great player. I just hope to go in there and play as hard as I can, do whatever I can to help the team.”
Even though he’s on injured reserve, Derrick Johnson will be around to offer mentorship as the Chiefs adjust to life without him.
And James-Michael Johnson, a third-year pro out of Nevada, certainly appreciates having the 10-year veteran and three-time Pro Bowl selection handy.
“I can bounce questions off of him,” he said. “He’s given me advice when he sees something I need to improve on or something I can do better, he’ll tell me. It’s always good having him around.”
The Chiefs bolstered depth at the inside linebacker position by elevating Jerry Franklin from the practice squad. The team could also use outside Frank Zombo, who took practice repetitions during training camp and also played inside during preseason action.
But the largest area the Chiefs must compensate for requires more than physical talent in the guts of the defense.
Derrick Johnson was the defensive quarterback, communicating consistently with the sideline and ensuring teammates were lined up properly.
The Chiefs haven’t decided as of yet who will assume that responsibility between Maugu and James-Michael Johnson. But the good news is the players have experience if it falls on either.
“They both do it,” coach Andy Reid said. “They both have done it and they’ll both have certain responsibilities of who calls. I’m not sure if (defensive coordinator) Bob’s (Sutton) made that decision on who he green dots yet.”
James-Michael Johnson also isn’t sure if he’ll call the defensive plays, but he’s glad to have a former college teammate in Mauga at his side.
“We’ll see when we get out there,” he said. “We’ll both help each other out.”