While his teammates were sweating away in St. Joseph for training camp, Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali was working up a nice sweat of his own: keeping his weight down through jiu-jitsu workouts.
Hali, the 33-year-old edge rusher, was held out of camp at Missouri Western by the Chiefs’ coaching staff for his own good. He’s been playing on balky knees for a while now, both of which have been operated on in the last two years, and there was a sense they could preserve Hali by keeping him out of unnecessary practices.
The result? All is well.
Hali, who was been practicing with the Chiefs for about a week — since they came back from St. Joseph — says the rest helped him, even though it doesn’t necessarily jibe with his max-effort personality on the field.
“When I hit the field, I go,” Hali said. “Whether my knee’s hurting or not, as long as I’m on the field and I can run, I go. I think the coaches understand that, and they’ve done a great job of saying ‘We know he’s gonna go; let’s just get him out there when we need him out there,’ instead of him just messing up his knee or whatever the case may be.”
Hali is running pretty fluidly, and he’s checking in at a trim 265 pounds (10 fewer than his playing weight), thanks to a strong offseason workout program.
“A lot of rehab work, and a lot of jiu-jitsu … this offseason to make sure I could keep my weight down and be able to work on my midsection,” Hali said. “That could help my knee area.”
Hali, who has been working with the legendary Gracie family — the creators of Brazilian jiu-jitsu — for the last eight years, said the workouts are not for the faint of heart, either.
“They put me through a brutal workout and a good diet, a Gracie diet, and it definitely paid off,” Hali said.
The weight loss was necessary, as Hali — who underweight surgery on his right knee in February, said he weighed about 285 pounds in the spring. Still, that’s not necessarily out of the ordinary for the 11-year pro.
“I do it every year — I get big and I lose it,” Hali said. “It’s almost like I love the challenge. Get big and get small again.”
Now the Chiefs hope the five-time Pro Bowler, who recorded 48 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks in 2015, is ready to again help anchor a strong pass rush. With Justin Houston slated to miss at least the first six weeks of the season, and his replacement, Dee Ford, still needing to prove he’s up to the challenge, Hali will be counted on to be a steady, consistent presence from Game 1.
“Each day, I progress in my game, my takeoff, making contact with the guys,” Hali said.
But that’s not to say everything is perfect. When Hali had surgery on his other knee a year ago, it only took two months to heal. It has taken this knee a little bit longer, and Hali mentioned Tuesday that there’s still some pain and swelling.
“I’ve just had to be patient,” Hali said. “It’s still a process.”
But the good news is that Hali has found a way to be very productive despite pain and swelling in both knees the last two seasons.
“There’s going to be pain in my knee — I can only work through it and get to the passer,” Hali said.
Given the three-year, $22 million contract the Chiefs awarded him this offseason — with $12 million guaranteed — they’re betting he’ll be able to do that again, at least for this year.
“(I’m taking it) year by year,” Hali said, when asked how long he expects to keep playing. “I love playing the game. It takes a huge toll on our body, but I still enjoy playing it, I still love being around the guys. And the ultimate goal is to win a championship here, a Super Bowl. And that’s my drive.”