On Friday morning, Eric Berry and Tamba Hali met in the Chiefs’ locker room and got it all on the table.
The team had just finished its conditioning test for training camp, and Berry had always considered Hali a straight shooter, so when he caught wind of Hali’s surprise Twitter rant last week — in which he not only questioned his lack of playing time down the stretch last season and also seemed to question a handful of his teammates’ decisions to skip organized team activities — Berry figured he might as well get an explanation from the man himself.
“What’s this I hear about a Twitter rant?” asked Berry, who was one of four defensive starters to skip at least part of the voluntary portion of OTAs this spring.
And Hali, who is five years Berry’s senior, essentially gave him a speech that struck the same chords as the one he gave to his fans via Facebook Live on Tuesday.
Although he did say that any Chief who considers himself a leader should be around the team 24/7, Hali said the rant was mainly about his own need for a clearly-defined role.
“I just wanted to play — I just want to play,” said Hali, who played only seven snaps in the Chiefs’ 18-16 divisional-round loss to Pittsburgh after being told he was being rested for the playoffs all year. “I want to be part of the equation. And that was pretty much it.”
And while there was more to it, for sure — football players prefer to keep things like that internal — Berry gave the impression afterward that he was genuinely satisfied with Hali’s explanation.
“We talked about it, he told me what he felt, and we’re good,” Berry said. “Man, I just respect Tamba, outside of all this stuff. He was straight up and honest with me, and he’s always been straight up with me since I came into the league.
“Tamba’s competitive. He just wants to make plays and help the team in any way possible. If he’s on the field, he’s going to give everything he has. That’s always been him since I’ve been here. Can’t do anything but respect that.”
Outside linebacker Justin Houston, who also skipped OTAs along with Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters, also brushed off Hali’s comments.
“No, I don’t pay attention to any of that — that’s my brother,” Houston said. “We have a relationship. I’m not letting any outside stuff go on. We know what’s going on between us, and we know where we stand between us. There’s nothing between us but love.”
That would appear to be the case with Hali’s other teammates, as well. Nothing is off limits in a football locker room, and quarterback Alex Smith wasn’t afraid to bust Hali’s chops about the rant recently.
“It’s good just to see him and crack a smile but for sure give him a hard time, jab him a little bit,” Smith said. “Especially as the old guy, to me to have a little drama, I think that’s funny.”
Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so funny if Chiefs coach Andy Reid wasn’t so good at putting out fires. Few NFL coaches are as skilled at de-escalating internal conflict as Reid is, and this week, the Chiefs’ veteran coach made sure he told Hali that in the future, all he has to do is come talk to him if he has a problem.
“Tamba’s a unique character on this team, so he’s a big brother type, he’s been around a long time and he’s ornery and that whole deal,” said Reid, who dismissed any potential for internal strife over the comments. “So the guys, they know Tamba. And he does everything with love and appreciation, and everybody knows he loves to play the game.”
Hali, likewise, expressed confidence in Reid on Friday, noting that he believes his coach understood what he was trying to get across.
“Coach knows what he’s doing, I’m a competitior, I want to compete,” Hali said. “It’s not about starting, it’s not about whose better on our team. We’re a team. I just want to be included, and I don’t want to feel like ‘Oh, they’re just going to phase me out.’
“I feel like I can still play, and that’s why I went on the rant, because I know I can still play — I just don’t know how the team wanted to use me anymore.”
Hali, however, opened camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which would seem to run counter to his declaration last weekend that he’s completely healthy. But Hali has never denied his ongoing issues with his knees, and it’s more likely that when he said he was healthy, he was simply stating that he was healthy enough to play.
Hali said Friday that he always knew he’d open camp on the PUP list, by the way. He did the same last year — which the Chiefs did in an effort to save his knees — and Hali expects to start practicing three weeks into camp, just like he did in 2017.
“Rick (Burkholder) and I have been on the same page,” Hali said of the Chiefs’ head trainer. “I’m way ahead of the ballgame. Last year around this time, I could barely run. It took a while for me to actually regain my quicks.”
But on Friday, Hali did 10 50-yard sprints, and felt good afterward. He also feels good about his role this year — which he said Reid has clearly laid out for him — though Hali declined to go into specifics about how he’ll be used, a possible hint that his unease over the weekend has been quelled.
“Our conversation went well,” Hali said. “Coach said ‘Listen, I’m gonna shoot you straight’ ... there’s not going to be any indecision.”
So would Hali do it all over again?
“I’d do it a little bit different,” Hali said. “I wouldn’t be on Twitter doing it the way I did. I probably would have contacted Coach so we could figure it out behind closed doors, because I think it got blown out of proportion based on the fact we’ve got training camp and we’re getting ready for Super Bowl champs.”