Over the course of a few months, Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines went from a backup to a key special-teams player to a starter.
This was quite a leap for a third-round pick who looked like he might need time to adjust to the NFL after the fourth preseason game, when he got torched by Green Bay’s backups.
“The Green Bay game was a little rough on him,” coach Andy Reid said. “I think he grew up in that game. I think he learned some things there.”
Reid added that Gaines’ rise on the depth chart — he started Sunday’s game against the Jets ahead of Marcus Cooper, the starter to open the season — has a lot to do with the bang-up job Gaines did on special teams during the season’s first month.
“Special teams was great for him,” Reid said. “You hear about special teams, and what it does, it teaches leverage, it teaches angles, it keeps you in open space with speed so you learn to work angles and close on people.
“That transfers over for secondary players and linebackers. If they can handle the special teams, then they can handle the defense. He’s done a nice job.”
It’s hard to ignore linebacker Justin Houston’s on-field impact — he already has 12 sacks and is off to a scintillating start — but Reid said the fourth-year linebacker is also making a positive impact in the locker room.
“I see it in practice everyday,” Reid said. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself; he puts a lot of pressure on the players around him. He also has a personality where he’s funny, he can kind of keep it loose. He’s got a good feel for that.”
Mauga earns praise
Josh Mauga picked a great time to post a season-high in tackles.
Mauga racked up a team-high 10 tackles — tying a season-high he posted against the San Francisco 49ers in week five — on Sunday against the Jets, his former team, and Reid went out of his way to praise him for the job he’s done replacing star linebacker Derrick Johnson.
“He doesn’t get a ton of credit for what he’s doing right now,” Reid said. “He’s leading the team in tackles.”
Mauga has 57 tackles, 17 more than the next closest player, safety Ron Parker. Not bad for a player who was signed a day before training camp.
Reid attributes Mauga’s history with second-year defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who coached Mauga with the Jets from 2009 to 2012, as a reason for his performance.
“Josh was one of the few people (here) that had a little (previous) background with Bob,” Reid said. “He knew the defense.”
Parker plays all over
One thing the number of injuries the Chiefs have dealt with this season has done is give fifth-year pro Ron Parker a chance to showcase his skills.
Parker, who is second on the team in tackles with 40, has started all six games at safety since Eric Berry got hurt, but he also moved to cornerback at times on Sunday when the Chiefs went to their subpackages.
“He played corner, he played nickel, he played safety yesterday,” Reid said. “That’s pretty good for a young guy. Gives you good flexibility. Good football player …. even though he dropped that interception.”
Reid was poking fun of Parker’s dropped interception late in the fourth quarter Sunday, when Jets quarterback Michael Vick essentially threw a pass right to him along the sideline.
Chiefs honor Native American tribes
John Learned didn’t know if he’d ever see a day like Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
In connection with Native American Heritage Month, the Chiefs worked with the American Indian Community Working Group for a series of events and tributes before Sunday’s 24-10 victory over the Jets.
“It went off beautifully,” said Learned, a member of Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and president and CEO of the American Indian Center of the Great Plains.
Some two dozen tribes from the Midwest were represented, and Moses Starr Jr., a spiritual leader of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe, blessed the four directions inside the stadium. The Chiefs drum was blessed. An honor song was performed for former Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, for whom the Chiefs were named.
Also, the colors were presented by the We-Ta-Se, American Legion 410 Honor Color Guard, who are members of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, and the national anthem was sung by Tabitha Fair, who is of Chickasaw descent. She was accompanied by Chickasaw National Youth Choir.
Learned, a former Kansas football player and volleyball coach at UMKC and Haskell, has been working with the Chiefs to raise awareness about Native American culture.
Reid said receiver Donnie Avery, who underwent core muscle surgery a month ago, may be ready to resume practicing this week. Avery has missed the Chiefs’ last four games with a groin injury.
Linebacker Joe Mays is still eligible to return from the injured-reserve-with-a-designation-to-return list this week, but it’s uncertain whether he will. Mays, who had wrist surgery two months ago, practiced last week. The team still has two weeks to activate him.
Linebacker Jerry Franklin strained his hamstring in Sunday’s game, while cornerback Jamell Fleming and outside linebacker Josh Martin, who both missed the game with hamstring injuries, are getting better but are not yet ready to practice, as of Monday.
The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff contributed to this report