Red Zone

Chiefs’ Hali suspended one game for violating substance-abuse policy

Normally upbeat during his daily preseason press conference, Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel displayed a different mood on Monday.

“I’ve been better, to tell you the truth,’’ Crennel said.

Crennel had good reason to be demoralized. He had just heard that the NFL had suspended the Chiefs’ best pass rusher, Tamba Hali, for one regular-season game for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Hali will not play in the Chiefs’ opener against Atlanta on Sept. 9 at Arrowhead Stadium. He will also be fined one additional game check.

Hali practiced with the Chiefs on Monday, occupying his normal spot as the right outside linebacker. He will be eligible to practice for the next two weeks and play in the final two preseason games.

He won’t practice the week of the Atlanta game or play against the Falcons. But he can return to the Chiefs the day after the game and play in the next game on Sept. 16 against the Bills in Buffalo.

“The NFL’s substance-abuse policy is what it is,’’ Crennel said. “It was violated, and there’s a consequence to be paid for it. Tamba will pay the consequence. We’re disappointed. We’re disappointed for him. We’re disappointed for the team. We’re disappointed for the organization and the fans. But it is what it is.

“Tamba is a guy who’s been very prideful. He’s been a very good team member for this team, and I think the team will rally around him and support him as best they can during this time.’’

The NFL’s substance-abuse policy covers the illegal use of drugs and the abuse of prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs and alcohol, but not performance-enhancing drugs. The nature of Hali’s violation was unclear.

The policy states that players under contract to an NFL team are subject to a test for banned substances once between April 20 and Aug. 9.

Unlike the NFL’s PED policy, which calls for a four-game suspension for a first-time violation, penalties for substance-abuse violations are handled on a case-by-case basis by the league and commissioner Roger Goodell, according to NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello.

Another NFL player, Bears defensive tackle Nate Collins, was recently suspended for one game and fined two game checks for violating the substance-abuse policy. As in Hali’s case, the NFL did not disclose the nature of Collins’ violation, but Collins had been charged with marijuana possession in February.

Hali issued a statement through the Chiefs that indicated he wouldn’t appeal the suspension.

“I apologize to my teammates, the Hunt family, the Kansas City Chiefs organization and most importantly, our fans,” he said. “I accept the discipline from the league and will return week two of the NFL season with a commitment to erase this mistake with my play on the field and my conduct off it.”

Andy Studebaker is the next player on the depth chart at outside linebacker. Studebaker started five games last season before he was replaced by Justin Houston.

“We’ll look at guys and see what’s going to happen,’’ Crennel said. “We’ll look here the next week and a half and see how it goes, and when we start preparing for the Atlanta game, we’ll determine how we play the game.’’

The problem is that other than Studebaker, the Chiefs have a small pool to choose from for possible replacements. Cameron Sheffield, Gabe Miller and Edgar Jones are the other outside linebackers.

Sheffield has missed practice time in recent days and didn’t play against St. Louis Saturday night because of a sore groin muscle. Miller, a fifth-round draft pick last season, missed all of his rookie season with an injury.

Jones was signed by the Chiefs early in training camp.

The Chiefs appear confident in Studebaker as a run defender. Replacing Hali as a pass rusher is a bigger problem. Hali had 261/2 sacks over the last two seasons.

“All of the outside linebackers can rush the passer,’’ Crennel said. “The thing is that they don’t have the rush ability that Tamba brings to the table. But I expect everybody to step up and provide some pass rush for us.

“Sheffield can rush. He has rushed in the past. Andy can rush. Andy has worked really hard this training camp, and I think he’s really improved his pass rush ability. All of those guys can produce and can play. We’ll look at them out there and see who can bring something to the table for us.’’

The Star’s Kent Babb contributed to this report.
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