Chiefs looking to Hali for an improved pass rush

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 | 8:16 p.m. CDT
Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali walks between fields at the teams training facility in Kansas City on Monday. The NFL has suspended Hali for the Chiefs season-opener against Atlanta for violating its policy on substance abuse.

KANSAS CITY — Tamba Hali woke up on Sunday morning, went for a walk and then settled in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs on television, the same manner as many fans.

It wasn't exactly his normal routine.

The Pro Bowl linebacker was back on the practice field Wednesday after serving a suspension in Week 1 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Hali apologized for the transgression, but refused to get into the details about what triggered the NFL to come down on him.

"I've got to be careful of what I say," Hali said after practice, sweat dripping off his face. "I can't elaborate on anything. I'm just very sorry for what went on."

Hali said that he didn't have any problem with the suspension levied by the NFLand preferred to shift the focus back to the field, where he'll try to bolster a Chiefs pass rush Sunday at Buffalo that was virtually nonexistent in a 40-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last weekend.

Justin Houston had the only sack for the Chiefs, allowing Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to shred their secondary all afternoon. He finished with 299 yards and three touchdowns passing.

"I'm sure these guys are desperate. They want to win," Hali said. "Coming into this game, yeah, it'll be a lot more emotional. And then we'll have to settle down and play a little more poised."

Hali has earned a reputation over the past few years for doing both: Bringing some much-needed emotion to a defense that's otherwise lacked an identity, and for providing the kind of play that allows everyone else on the field to feel a little more comfortable in their roles.

The former first-round draft pick has started every game he's played the past six seasons, making more than 260 tackles and 53 1/2 sacks while forcing a staggering 22 fumbles.

It's little wonder that after making 14 1/2 sacks two years ago, Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli made it a priority to sign Hali to a long-term deal. It was consummated just after the start of training camp, a five-year, $60 million contract with $35 million guaranteed.

Hali responded with 12 sacks last year en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance.

"The way he approaches the game and the way he plays, down-in and down-out, that impacts the guys around him, because I think they want to play up to the level he plays," Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. "If we can get guys up to the level he plays, then you've lifted the team."

Kansas City certainly could use a lift after the way it played against Atlanta.

The sight of Julio Jones scoring touchdowns, and Roddy White finding open space in the secondary, are probably just as vivid in the Chiefs' minds as Ryan sitting in the pocket all afternoon.

Along with the sack by Houston, Kansas City had just three "quarterback hurries."

"Being able to have such a dynamic pass rusher out there, it really helps," Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "I know that there's always going to be issues with him in terms of us having to protect against him and know where he is on every snap. I think that changes the defense a lot."

Linebacker Derrick Johnson said that Hali had already apologized to his teammates for whatever caused him to be suspended for Week 1, and the apology was readily accepted.

"We stick by Tamba all the way. He's one of our brothers, our family members, and we know he's all in with us," Johnson said. "Tamba is our best player on defense. He's going to get to the quarterback, he's going to help the back line — he's going to help me out."

That's something he couldn't do last Sunday, when he was watching from home.

"Being away, having to watch our team, wasn't something I liked," said Hali, who watched the game with his daughter and mother. "It wasn't fun screaming at the TV.

"We played a good team, and it's always frustrating when I can't be out there, or any other players can't be out there to contribute, but they played as best they can," he said. "But me personally, I was frustrated."

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