Chiefs will see if Hali can fill Allens shoes
By ADAM TEICHER
The Kansas City Star
It’s an easy thing to forget now, blotted out as it was by Jared Allen’s breakout season and the monster contract it earned him from the Minnesota Vikings.
But just two seasons ago, Tamba Hali, then a rookie, led the Chiefs in sacks with eight, or one-half more than Allen.
The events of the last year made that feel so long ago to Hali, so long ago that maybe he dreamed it rather than lived it. Though he finished last season with 7 1/2 sacks, Hali was still so far behind the league-leading Allen and his 15 1/2 that he occasionally felt like a failure.
“I used to look at Jared and I’d get frustrated because he’s such a good player, and there were times when I felt I didn’t reach his standard,” Hali said. “He was sacking the quarterback all the time and I wasn’t keeping up with him.”
The trade sending Allen to the Vikings guarantees Hali nothing because the comparisons will still be there. But the Chiefs are trying to boost Hali by moving him into Allen’s vacated position, the traditional spot for a team’s premier pass rusher because the right defensive end usually attacks the quarterback’s blind side.
The Chiefs have to make up Allen’s 15 1/2 sacks from somewhere. They won’t all come from Hali, but they are asking him to again be their leader.
“Tamba Hali is probably the most underrated player in the NFL when it comes to rushing the passer,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “All people look at is how many times he sacked the quarterback. What they don’t look at is how many times he made the quarterback move. He was a force rushing the passer all year long. I don’t know how many sacks he missed when he tried to strip the ball and the quarterback got away.”
Conventional wisdom was that the Chiefs had to draft an end over the weekend to replace Allen. By the time their first choice rolled around at the fifth pick, the best end, Virginia’s Chris Long, had been taken by St. Louis.
“There were some ends in the draft that we could have had, but at that pick we couldn’t take them,” said coach Herm Edwards, indicating the Chiefs didn’t believe Ohio State’s Vernon Gholston or Florida’s Derrick Harvey were worth the fifth pick.
“The best player defensively was the guy we took (tackle Glenn Dorsey). From there, you figure out what you’re going to do. We had to move some guys around. We feel good about Tamba. We feel we can put him over there and he’ll be OK.
“He can handle it. I think he’ll enjoy it more.”
Hali was also envious of Allen at times, or at least the position Allen played. There are some advantages to playing on the right side as opposed to the left, where Hali lined up for most of the last two seasons.
Not only does the right end usually attack the quarterback’s blind spot, but he usually has no tight end to contend with. Most teams station the tight end on the right side of the offensive formation.
“It’s kind of like a free hit on the quarterback from that position,” Hali said. “I’m kind of looking forward to it.”
Edwards predicted Hali would finish next season with 11 or 12 sacks. Cunningham wouldn’t commit to a number other than to say Edwards’ guess could be low.
“I’m not going to say Tamba Hali is going to get 15 sacks because he’s playing on the right side,” Cunningham said. “I have to let that play out. The thing we need to find out is how comfortable he’ll feel on the right side. With all of the skills he’s shown, he’s certainly shown he can be a double-digit sack guy over there.
“It’s easier when you come from the right side to do that like Derrick Thomas did it and Jared Allen did it. They were coming from the quarterback’s blind side. When you come from the other side like Tamba’s been doing it, you’re right in the quarterback’s vision. That’s going to help him.”
Hali would have been much closer to Allen’s sack total last year had he finished several sacks that he lost when the quarterback escaped his grasp.
“There’s a lot of pressure on all of us to get the ball out,” he said. “That’s what I usually go for. A lot of times the quarterback got away because I was focused on stripping the ball. I know I’ve got to secure the sack first. I’ll do that more this year.”
The Chiefs aren’t counting on Dorsey to keep up with Hali in the sack race. They are expecting his presence to be imposing and help the other rushers, Hali in particular.
They will unchain him in the middle of their line and hope he chases quarterbacks right to Hali.
“He’s got the power and the athletic skills to make a lineman trying to block him miss,” Cunningham said. “We don’t even know exactly what he can do at this point. I can’t wait to start working with him and we can figure that out.”
I like Hali. I hope he has a pro bowl year and has 16 1/2 sacks to throw it in Jared's face.