In mid-November, Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey was well on his way toward a career year.
The 26-year-old not only led all Chiefs defensive linemen in snaps — an indicator of how much the coaching staff trusts him — but he also was on track to finish with 62 tackles, nine sacks and four forced fumbles, which would have easily been career highs.
“Definitely, I was in my groove,” Bailey said. “I was definitely playing pretty (darn) good.”
It was clearly the kind of campaign that Chiefs general manager John Dorsey had in mind when he signed Bailey to a four-year, $24 million extension in November 2014 that kept him from hitting free agency.
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Little did anyone know that an injury caused by a simple practice drill almost a year later would interrupt his momentum. During the week before the Chiefs’ 29-13 win over the Denver Broncos on Nov. 15, Bailey said he was going through drills with his fellow defensive linemen — including one where they work on getting out of their stances as quickly as possible — when he felt some discomfort in a calf muscle.
“I felt like somebody kicked me,” Bailey said.
Bailey had a calf strain, one that would keep him out for the Chiefs’ next four games. The Chiefs were careful with the injury.
“When you deal with those calves, you don’t want any setbacks,” coach Andy Reid said. “You get a setback, now you’re out another three weeks. So we were cautious with him, and he was honest with us.”
That wasn’t hard for Bailey, who remembers former teammate Glenn Dorsey going through a calf injury in 2012. Dorsey hurt his left calf in a September practice, missed four games and returned, only to injure his right calf in his first game back. He then was placed on injured reserve.
“So we took our time with it until it was 100 percent,” said Bailey, who returned for the Chiefs’ 10-3 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday after missing four games. “I didn’t want to rush it back.”
Not that sitting out was easy for Bailey. He enjoys playing in the games, and he has formed a tight bond with other players along the defensive line, including Jaye Howard and Dontari Poe.
“I’ve been watching them on TV, texting them before the game and stuff, and then talking with them on the phone after the game, crack a joke or two if I see them do something (funny), you know?” Bailey said. “I was still going to meetings and stuff, staying in the mix. It might have been 20-something days but it seemed so much longer.”
Fortunately, the Chiefs didn’t miss a beat. When Bailey got hurt, they had won two straight and were sitting with a 3-5 record. They won the four games he missed and won his return game Sunday to bring their record to 8-5.
“It’s been a couple weeks, feeling good to get back in the groove,” Bailey said. “It was a pain not being able to participate and contribute. But I knew those boys would hold it down like they did, you know? They’ve all been playing good. Just trying to come back and keep adding to it.”
Bailey had a quiet game statistically against the Chargers, registering a single tackle, but because of defensive end Mike DeVito’s absence with a concussion, Bailey’s return did allow them to continue rotating a deep four-man defensive front that kept everyone fresh. Poe led them with 56 snaps, but Bailey had 43 and Howard had 41.
Reid liked what he saw from Bailey, too.
“He’s so long, he’s a big human being,” Reid said of the 6-foot-3, 300 pounder. “You stand next to him, and he’s well-put together and proportioned and go, ‘Wow, he’s a big guy.’ And that’s the way he plays in there. Very, very strong.”
Now that Bailey is back, he’s focused on the task at hand — winning games and resuming a career-season. He has 32 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks and is only 10 tackles and a sack away for setting career highs in each category.
“I was on a roll, and I’m trying to get back on my roll,” Bailey said. “That’s all I can do … whatever stats I had last year, I want to crack them.”