Even with a balky knee, Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali turned in a typically fine season in 2014, recording six sacks and making his fifth straight Pro Bowl.
That didn’t Hali from undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on the knee this offseason in hopes of fixing the problems he had with it last year.
“Some cartilage was floating in there, making it swell up,” Hali said. “The doctor cleaned it out and I feel good … I’m glad to get out here and cut on it, run on it.”
Taking care of the knee and letting his body recuperate constituted a significant part of the offseason for the 31-year-old Hali, who is widely regarded for his strong work ethic.
“I took a month off, traveled, came back and had surgery and started rehab the next day,” said Hali, who took a pay cut to stay in Kansas City this year. “I’ve been going since (then). The organization gave me some time to stay off of it. I work when I can and they rest me when I can’t.”
To that end, Hali — who will turn 32 in November — has ceded some of his first-team reps to fellow outside linebacker Josh Martin during the Chiefs’ three practices this week for organized team activities.
Hali and Martin have been flanked on the other side by second-year pro Dee Ford, who is earning crucial reps because star outside linebacker Justin Houston decided to skip OTAs to express his displeasure in the absence of a long-term deal.
“With Dee Ford, obviously, his second year in, he’s starting to get it more, understanding the scheme,” Hali said. “Those guys are hungry, they want to make plays, they want to establish themselves here as consistent players that can do it year in and year out; we look forward to it.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid is happy with his assortment of pass rushers, and noted the importance of getting Ford — a 2014 first-round pick who played only about 9 percent of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps as a rookie — more reps in a practice setting.
“He started picking things up well and playing well, and really it gives the other guys a bit of a blow, which is good,” Reid said. “It’s a long season, and you have three or four of those guys that can rush the passer like they do, I think that’s a plus.”
The 6-foot-2, 252-pound Ford — a college defensive end who finished last season with eight tackles and 1 1/2 sacks — is still learning the nuances of playing outside linebacker, which requires more sophistication in pass coverage.
“Dee had to learn that position as far as the (pass) drop game goes,” Reid said. “That’s why this was great for him here. He gets all those reps and opportunity to learn the pass game part of it.”
Ford said the reps in this area are essentially invaluable as he works to improve his understanding of pre-snap shifts and motions and his overall awareness in non-pass rush situations.
“My situational football (has improved), definitely, certain situations that I didn’t quite understand,” Ford said. “I could spit it out to you, but once the bullets were flying, it was different. But now that I have seen them ample amount of times and I’ve studied, it’s coming to me.”
In regards to the latter, Ford is optimistic that all the work he put in this offseason will pay off when the pads come on in July.
“I spent more time this year doing football things,” Ford said. “Last year, it was the (scouting) combine, pro day, private workouts, visits; it wasn’t the same. Then I came into trying to learn a new position. I didn’t have that luxury that I have this year.”
Provided he makes the leap he expects to make, Ford will give the Chiefs a nice pass-rush trio along with two established stars in Houston and a rested, rejuvenated Hali.
“I couldn’t do certain things I was accustomed to doing (last season),” Hali said, in regards to his creaky knee. “But again, when we’re playing out there, I’m not too concerned about my knee. I’m more concerned about making the next play.”