Since the Chiefs traded Jared Allen in 2008, linebacker Tamba Hali has often felt all alone when it’s time to rush the opposing quarterback. He doesn’t necessarily feel that way this year.
“With all of the guys that we have acquired, we will be able to generate more pass rushing on the teams we are going to play this year,’’ Hali said. “Not just from my standpoint, but from all over the defense, from the outside linebackers to the safeties, I think we are all getting ready for the pass rush, and that’s a good thing.”
The Chiefs got off to a good start in last week’s preseason opener against Arizona. They sacked Cardinals quarterbacks seven times.
But four sacks came in the fourth quarter, and six of the seven were supplied by players who either won’t play much during the regular season or won’t be with the Chiefs at all.
“It was OK,’’ coach Romeo Crennel said. “We had some sacks, but some of it was against down-the-line guys. I thought we had decent pressure on the pocket. If you can get pressure on the pocket, sometimes it doesn’t always end in sacks, but sometimes you can disrupt the timing of the quarterback, get him off the spot and make him make a throw that really is not ideal for him.’’
Hali’s point is better illustrated by the three Arizona possessions with the starting Chiefs defense on the field. One ended with a sack by Justin Houston. Another ended when pressure by Hali forced Cardinals quarterback John Skelton to make an awkward throw that was intercepted by safety Abe Elam.
The potential demonstrated by those two plays is the reason the Chiefs believe they will easily top the 29 sacks they compiled last year.
“I can’t put numbers on us,’’ Hali said. “We start out and then we’ve got to stop the run. Then we have to get after the passer, one play at a time and one game at a time. We have our goals. We can’t look at anything else other than that. After the season, we’ll look at the numbers.”
The new element in the Chiefs’ pass rush is first-round draft pick Dontari Poe, who is taking the place of Wallace Gilberry. The Chiefs allowed Gilberry, who had 21/2 sacks last year, to leave as a free agent.
Poe, at 346 pounds, has potential, but it may take him some time to realize it. So the best chance for pass-rush improvement rests with the other two designated pass rushers, Houston and Allen Bailey.
Both were rookies last season. Houston finished with a flourish, getting all 51/2 of his sacks in the final five games.
“I expect for him to be better as a pass rusher because he’s had an offseason program and been in the system now,’’ Crennel said. “I think he’s more comfortable and he’s spent more time on his pass-rush technique. So I expect that to pay off on the field.’’
If Houston continues to play as he did late last season, the Chiefs should have two players in double-digits in sacks for the first time since Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas did that in 1994. Hali led the Chiefs with 12 sacks last season and 141/2 in 2010.
“I think he realizes that he needs to play better than he did last year,’’ linebackers coach Gary Gibbs said of Houston. “I think he’s had a good offseason. I think he’s matured, and I think he realizes that there are some good players that are counting on him. Again, it remains to be seen, but I think he’ll step up and have a good year.”
Asked what he thought Houston could produce as a pass rusher this season, Gibbs said, “I have no idea. I’m just hoping he does better tomorrow than he did today. He’s a good young player that gained some good experience last year, but he needs to build on that experience. Every day that you are out there you can see things and adjust to things, and if he does that, then I think we’ll have a pretty good outside linebacker. But we are early in that process.”
Bailey was also part of the pass-rush group last season. He had just one sack, but it also happened in a late-season game, against Green Bay.
“Once we get it rolling this year, it should be pretty scary, you know?’’ Bailey said. “The sky’s the limit for us. We have a lot of guys with a lot of attributes as pass rushers.’’