Competition for KC Chiefs’ inside linebacker spot heats up

08/25/2014 12:41 PM

08/25/2014 12:42 PM

If there’s one position that’s totally wide open in the Chiefs’ lineup, it’s inside linebacker in their base 3-4 defense.

With Joe Mays out indefinitely after undergoing wrist surgery, second-year linebacker Nico Johnson, veteran Frank Zombo and veteran James-Michael Johnson all saw playing time at the position in last Saturday night’s preseason game against Minnesota.

Josh Mauga, signed during training camp, missed the last two preseason games because of a groin injury, but he’s expected to join the fray in Thursday night’s preseason finale at Green Bay.

Nico Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick from Alabama in 2013, started last Saturday night alongside Derrick Johnson against Minnesota. He was on the field for 22 snaps and was credited with three tackles and a quarterback hurry.

Zombo, usually an outside linebacker, began working inside even before Mays’ injury and saw time with the starters against Minnesota. He took part in 20 snaps and made three tackles. James-Michael Johnson, who also backs up Derrick Johnson, participated in 27 snaps with the backups and had an assist.

“Nico has had a really good camp and is an improved player,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “We’ve played Frank in there a little bit way before the injury training him because when you go to a (regular-season) game, you don’t always get your full complement of backups.

“To have a guy who can play both inside and outside is a real plus for us, depending what game we’re in and what situation we’re in where we might not get two-deep all the way across the board.”

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @randycovitz.

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