Compensating for fallen starters LB Derrick Johnson, Mike DeVito no easy task

Sep 7, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (56) leaves the field on a cart against the Tennessee Titans in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 7, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (56) leaves the field on a cart against the Tennessee Titans in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs need a Plan B, and the team needs it fast to recover from the stunning loss of two defensive starters.

“(Outside linebacker) Derrick Johnson and (defensive end) Mike DeVito ruptured their Achilles tendon,” coach Andy Reid announced after Sunday’s 26-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The injuries are potentially season ending.

Johnson, a 10th-year pro and undisputed leader on the Chiefs defense, and DeVito are key pieces of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme, so finding an impact replacement won’t be easy.

“We have some big shoes to fill,” outside linebacker Justin Houston said, “so we’ve just got to stick together as a unit and help the guys to make plays and motivate them.”

The Chiefs already went to a backup plan at left inside linebacker with Josh Mauga, who filled in for Joe Mays (wrist, injured reserve with designated for return).

The option to replace Johnson is likely James-Michael Johnson, and the team can elevate Nico Johnson, last season’s fourth-round draft pick, from the practice squad to the active roster.

Barring the addition of a free agent in the coming days, the Chiefs could feature Mauga and James-Michael Johnson at the inside linebacker positions for the long haul.

Mauga joined the team a day before training camp, while the Chiefs claimed Johnson off waivers from the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 1, 2013.

Still, if there’s a player arguably the toughest to replace on defense, it’s the veteran leader Derrick Johnson, whose 985 career tackles rank third in team history.

“It’s a real bad break for him and our team,” defensive tackle Dontari Poe. “We have to keep on rolling.”

Meanwhile, DeVito’s replacement is likely Jaye Howard. But the Chiefs will need more depth considering Mike Catapano (illness) is on the non-football injury list.

“DeVito means just as much to this defense,” strong safety Eric Berry said, “especially in the run game and just his presence, period, in the locker room every day. When you’ve got guys like that, that things happen to, everybody is going to have to up their game with a little bit more focus.”

The Chiefs also have versatile defensive linemen Vance Walker and Damion Square on the active roster. Elevating defensive linemen Kona Schwenke or Hebron Fangupo from the practice squad remains an option.

Regardless the direction the Chiefs go, the famous sports cliché clearly applies.

And it’s the head coach’s philosophy.

“I expect other players to step up and do the job,” Reid said. “When given the opportunity we want that to happen.”

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