KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The script shouldn’t have read this way.
Linebacker Josh Mauga endured not one, but two straight season-ending injuries in 2013 (back) and 2012 (torn pectoral) with the New York Jets. He had to watch the game he loved from afar.
And despite the promise he offered as an as undrafted free agent out of Nevada in 2009, the Jets didn’t bring him back after the 2013 season.
The 27-year-old Mauga entered the 2014 offseason in limbo, hoping for a chance to prove he could stick in the NFL. That moment arrived when the Chiefs called, leading to the team to sign him to a contract on July 23, a day before training camp.
Less than two months later, the fifth-year pro defied the odds and will start at left inside linebacker for Sunday’s season opener against the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster coming off those two injuries,” Mauga said. “My main goal was just to get back and start playing football again. The way things happened this training camp, I got a great opportunity and now I can go out and play on Sunday, start on Sunday.”
Mauga replaces Joe Mays, who recently underwent wrist surgery and recovers on injured reserve with a designation for return.
But it wasn’t exactly easy for Mauga. He first battled Nico Johnson, the Chiefs’ fourth-round draft pick in 2013, to be Mays’ primary backup in training camp. Mauga appeared in the first preseason game, and then missed the next two games after suffering a groin injury on Aug. 11.
Mauga returned for the preseason finale and totaled seven tackles (three solo) in two exhibition games. He then had to sweat it out before learning he made the 53-man roster in his first season with the Chiefs.
Despite being new to the team, Mauga is familiar with the defensive scheme. He reunites with current Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who previously coached linebackers with the Jets.
The 6-1, 245-pound linebacker was able to hit the ground running with some minor tweaks to understand the terminology.
“I’d say most of it is pretty similar,” Mauga said. “A few changes here and there, but most of his coaching has been the same and spending three years with him, it was great.”
Sutton saw Mauga produce 21 tackles (12 solo), an interception and 40 special teams tackles in 29 games (one start) with the Jets prior to leaving to take the defensive coordinator position with the Chiefs in 2013.
And Sutton appears happy to have one of his former players available while Mays recovers, knowing fully well what Mauga offers.
“He’s a very intense guy,” Sutton said. “He plays with a lot of passion. He’s quiet, but he loves to play the game. I think he’s going to bring that and we are fortunate to have a guy like that who can step in when a guy like Joe goes down.”
Another former Jet currently on the Chiefs roster echoed the defensive coordinator.
“It’s great to have a guy come in here and doesn’t have to start at square one,” defensive end Mike DeVito said. “He can plug right in there. I’ve always seen Josh play at a high level. He’s just doing what he does.”
Of course, it’s one thing for a former coach and former teammate to offer laudatory comments. They’re familiar with Mauga, after all.
But it’s arguably quite another when a new teammate who is just getting to know Mauga chimes in with praise.
“Real good player,” defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “Very good instincts. He knows how to fill gaps really well, so whenever I see players like that who can run up and fill a hole, I’m pretty much happy. He can do that and we can run around and make plays together.”
For his part, Mauga soaked it all in.
He stood by his locker in the Chiefs locker room and reflected on the past months since leaving New York. There’s the quiet nature about him, very much like his defensive coordinator described, and he’s soft spoken, offering the hint of a humble side.
Mauga had just one goal, and it’s clear the objective is obtained as he prepares for Sunday’s regular season game.
“That was my big thing going into training camp,” Mauga said, “just to show coaches I could still play and that I want to play. They gave me that opportunity and I’m ready to go now.”