The Chiefs’ Joe Mays faces the same quandary as many inside linebackers in today’s NFL.
The better he plays, the sooner he’s taken out of the game.
Mays, in his first season with the Chiefs, fills the role of run-stuffer. If the base 3-4 defense is successful on stopping the run on first or second down, Mays is replaced by an extra defensive back in obvious passing downs.
It’s a good problem to have.
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“It’s a good thing, but it’s a bad thing,” Mays said. “I want to play more, and I’m going to do what it takes to get out on the field more. But if I do my job well, I’m off the field. It’s kind of a win-lose kind of thing.”
Mays, 5-11, 244, spent 2013 with Houston after playing three seasons in Denver and two in Philadelphia, where Chiefs coach Andy Reid selected him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft.
He relishes the role of run-stuffer but does not want to be typecast by that description.
“It’s good to have that type of name for yourself,” Mays said. “You want to be known as a football player. I don’t want people to think I’m limited. Yeah, I like to be physical. Yeah, I like to play against the run, but I love football. I think I can do other things as well.
“I love contact. I love to hit. I’m a physical guy. I love the game. I’m a good communicator. I’m always the loudest guy on the field. There’s never going to be a time when I’m quiet. I’m always communicating, I’m always talking, making sure all my guys are on the same page.”
Mays drew attention — as well as a $50,000 fine and one-game suspension — in 2012 for a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub. The blow, which knocked Schaub’s helmet off, left him bloodied and missing a small piece of his left earlobe.
“That play follows me around a little bit,” Mays said. “Guys think it was a dirty play, but I was just trying to play football … play the game the way it’s meant to be played … fast and physical smash-mouth football. That’s who I am. That’s how I learned how to play the game, and that’s how I play it.”
Mays replaces Akeem Jordan, who signed with Washington after one season with the Chiefs, and is the sixth inside linebacker paired with Derrick Johnson since Johnson broke in with the club. Mays, who signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Chiefs, hopes the revolving door stops with him.
“I want to be the guy,” he said. “That’s why they brought me in, to be the guy next to DJ, so we can both go in and make some plays. I know there’s going to be competition (for the job), but I’m not worried about it. If I come in and do my best, they’re going to make the right decision.”
Johnson has been impressed with the attitude and ability Mays has brought to the base defense.
“Joe Mays is a guy known around the league to bring the hat,” Johnson said. “I’ve had about eight, nine, 10 (middle linebackers) next to me since I’ve been here. It is one of those things.
“When a new guy comes in — old or new — we have to get him acclimated to the system. Every guy that’s come in, it hasn’t been a big problem.”
Having spent two years playing for Reid in Philadelphia, three years in the AFC West with Denver, and facing the Chiefs last season while with the Texans, Mays has been a quick study in Kansas City.
“This team is hungry,” he said. “I knew that they were going to be that way, especially how they lost that game last year in the playoffs. They were going to be hungry. It’s contagious. They brought that out onto the field, and now me being a part of it, I feel like I was a part of that team last year.
“So now, I’m hungry as well. I want to come out, I want to be great. They want to be great. … I know how the fans are at Arrowhead. I know how loud the stadium is. Right now I’m on the right side.”