In his first stint of playing time this season, Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali’s most noticeable impact arrived in vintage form. There he was, curling around the edge on a pass rush, drawing a holding call on the opposing tackle. After eight weeks on the physically unable to perform list, with only a couple of practices preceding his return, Hali had flashed his old burst.
But the fickle nature of his availability has become unpredictable once again. Hali was not expected to practice Thursday after missing practice Wednesday with swelling in one of his ailing knees. On Wednesday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid classified Hali’s practice absence as a mixture of a setback and a scheduled day off.
So what do the Chiefs expect out of Hali, the man who ranks second on the franchise’s all-time sack list?
The hope — and it remains a hope, far from a certainty — is Hali can mirror the 23 defensive snaps he received during his season debut in Dallas on Nov. 5.
“I don’t think he’s ready or we’re ready to say he’s ready for a 50-play game or that type of thing,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “I think if we could get that type of play out of him — and maybe it increases as time goes on — but if nothing else, if we could get that ... 20-some plays per game, that would be a great help to us.”
Hali’s absence from practice is not unusual. He often missed days last season with sore knees, yet he still managed to appear in all 16 games. A bit of a difference in 2017, though, is he also missed all of training camp and has practiced only part of one week this season.
“This game, we’ve been doing this for a while. For him to just be up that week, practice a couple days, then go out and play a game, that’s a lot,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Tamba loves to play ball, so it’s kind of hard to straddle that line to push him back or push him forward. But it was good to see him out there — great to see 91 out there.”
The Chiefs could certainly use Hali’s production, especially with edge rusher Dee Ford also scheduled to miss practice Thursday with a back injury. They have totaled 19 sacks in nine games, tied for 22nd in the league.
If Hali can get on the field — however regularly or irregularly — the Chiefs know to expect one thing.
“Tamba is always going to bring you energy. That’s a staple of his,” Sutton said. “One of the most important qualities of a pass rusher is to be relentless because you’re going to get blocked most of the time. You just gotta keep fighting within the play, within the series. Again, that’s kind of a staple or pillar of his — how relentless he is.”