The beads of sweat poured off Tamba Hali’s forehead as he spoke to reporters on a muggy Kansas City afternoon. It was the evidence of yet another hard day’s work, albeit one not quite done for the star outside linebacker.
This was Wednesday, shortly after the Chiefs concluded their second practice of organized team activities, and while you might think a typical ninth-year veteran like Hali would consider these light, non-padded practices a minor annoyance, Hali said the fact he still has much to accomplish in his career keeps his fire burning and his effort level high.
“I’ve done this a long time and the only way I know how to compete in this league — I don’t come with the talent that these guys come with — is to work at it,” Hali said. “I understand what’s at hand. We probably have about 60 days left until we’re sitting at camp. Every day counts, from the dieting to the work, so I put in an extra couple of hours, two hours in the evening with my trainer just to stay on top of things and to not slack.”
So that is how Hali, who turns 31 in November, has chosen to attack his late prime. Take advantage of the here and now, live in the present and let the work take care of itself. Because the way Hali sees it, he still has much to accomplish in his career — remember, he’s yet to win a playoff game, let alone a Super Bowl — and he honestly does not know how much longer he’ll be playing the game.
“It’s a year-to-year thing for me,” Hali said, when asked how many years he has left. “I wish I knew the reality right now of where I am in my career ... it’s very important right now that our focus is to win a championship.”
Hali insists he is doing all he can to hold up his end of the bargain, despite the concern that bubbled up about his weight in early May, when ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that one of the reasons the Chiefs may have possibly taken rookie outside linebacker Dee Ford in the first round is because Hali checked in for the offseason training program at 284 pounds, which is 20 more than his preferred playing weight.
But on Wednesday, Hali said he is regularly weighing in between 270 to 275 pounds every morning, and expects to check in for training camp between 260 and 265 pounds, with a little less fat, to boot.
“I’m also losing body fat,” Hali said. “I can drop weight real fast, just based on how much I sweat. But that’s not real weight. Ideally, (I’ll lose) 2 pounds a week.”
Hali, who had 11 sacks in 15 games last season, also shrugs off concern about his own job security, despite the fact he is due nearly $23.5 million the next two seasons and Ford figures to be a cheaper alternative for a team that was strapped for cash this offseason.
“As an older guy, I need to make sure to step my game up and make sure I can play a few more years here and at the same time, knowing this kid is coming in and he’ll be able to help us,” Hali said. “We were in situations last year only having one pass rusher in the game, and when two guys are in the game, it’s kind of deadly. We add a third, and hopefully we can get all of us on the field.”
Indeed, the Chiefs’ pass rush was diminished the second half of the season, when Hali played hurt and Houston missed five games. They lost six of their last eight games, including a devastating 45-44 playoff loss to Indianapolis in which the defense blew a 28-point third-quarter lead.
“Oh, I have to help this guy,” Hali said of Ford. “The Chiefs have been loyal to me and kept me here for a long time even when I had three sacks in my (third season). They still believed in my talent and kept me around.
“The best thing I can do with the knowledge that I’ve acquired is to pass it on to these guys. We want to win a championship however we can. We have to share the knowledge and build on what we have right now.”
When asked what he’s seen from Ford, Hali even evoked the name of a legendary pass rusher — albeit one he never played with — when trying to describe his greatest strengths.
“If anybody reminds you of Derrick Thomas, that kid should pretty much remind you of Derrick Thomas’ first step,” Hali said. “He gets off the ball so fast, it’s scary. I just kept rewinding it yesterday just looking at his first step and it’s almost like as soon as the ball snaps, he’s with it. I don’t know if he times it, but his first step is incredible.”
If Ford can figure things out quickly, he figures to team with Hali and fellow outside linebacker Justin Houston — who missed his second straight day of practice, by the way — to form a formidable trio.
Hali and Houston are close, and Hali said Wednesday that he would like to see his buddy in camp. But he understands that Houston, who is likely angling for a new contract, has to do what’s best for him.
“Just have to find another guy right now until he comes back,” Hali said. “It doesn’t affect me that much. I miss him, that’s about it.”
Hali added that he’s not sure why Houston, who has one year left on his deal, is not at OTAs but believes he will return to the team at some point.
“As far as I know, he will,” Hali said. “We’re good friends. He’s coming.”
But until he does — and heck, even after he does — Hali says his focus will continue to be on self-improvement and making his teammates better. He doesn’t yet know when his career will end, so he’s determined to make the most of each season he has left, especially with a coach like Andy Reid, who he clearly respects, in charge.
“We can’t sell ourselves short,” Hali said. “We have the best coach in the game. I mean, come on.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.