KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not Tamba. Kansas City’s Tamba writes a $15,000 check just to keep the freshman football team at his old high school afloat. Tamba signs autographs until his thumbs cramp. Tamba is a teddy bear.
Substance abuse? Not Tamba. KC’s Tamba is No. 39 among FOXSports.com’s “2012 NFL’s top 100 players,” the highest-rated Kansas City Chief on the list. Tamba is a holy terror.
Tamba totes a $60 million contract and a million-dollar smile. Tamba goes from war-torn Liberia to the Pro Bowl. Tamba is a Disney movie, the feel-good hit of the summer. Tamba is a survivor.
Tamba is human. After word came down Monday of Tamba Hali’s one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse, another Chief among that elite 100, linebacker Derrick Johnson, observed: “That’s the big thing in the NFL. When things happen to you, how do you respond?”
Shock? Sadness? Anger? Banging your skull against the headboard? All of the above?
“We’re disappointed,” coach Romeo Crennel said of his star outside linebacker, who’ll miss the season-opener against Atlanta on Sept. 9. “We’re disappointed for him. We’re disappointed for the team, disappointed for the organization and the fans. But it is what it is.”
What it is, frankly, is a mess. Hali has 53.5 career sacks; the rest of the Chiefs’ collection of outside linebackers has a combined 9.5. Hali is a game-changer. Linebacker Gabe Miller is a channel-changer.
“Tamba’s situation is unfortunate,” Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said in a prepared statement. “Obviously, we are disappointed and will miss him during this suspension, but the NFL’s policies are very clear and we respect the league’s decision in this matter.”
Hali also released a statement: “I accept the discipline from the league and will return week 2 of the NFL season with a commitment to erase this mistake with my play on the field and my conduct off of it.”
The former Penn State standout will miss a game and two paychecks, the same punishment doled out to Chicago defensive tackle Nate Collins last month. Collins had been arrested in February for marijuana possession while a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, leading some to speculate that Hali might’ve befallen a similar — if curiously unreported — fate. Say this for the football gods: They sure don’t mind kicking Romeo when he’s down.
“I’ve been better, to tell you the truth,” Crennel sighed.
Like the man said, it’s about how you respond. How the Chiefs respond is anybody’s guess.
Hali’s suspension only adds to the hand-wringing over the pass defense. It’s an area already weakened by injuries to safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder) and cornerback Brandon Flowers, who has yet to appear in a preseason contest and spent Monday’s practice walking around with a protective boot.
If St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford could dice up a reasonably healthy Chiefs defense, what kind of havoc might Atlanta’s Matt Ryan wreak if Hali, Flowers and Lewis aren’t on the field for Week 1?
“There (are) ways to get around that,” Johnson offered. “But like I said, we’re pros, we’ll handle it the right way, and we’ll be OK when it’s all over and said and done.”
So the auditions begin, another subplot to share time on center stage during Friday’s Seattle tilt alongside the return of receiver Dwayne Bowe. Crennel plans to slot outside linebacker Andy Studebaker as “the next guy up,” while Cameron Sheffield, Hali’s backup, nurses a groin injury.
Like Tamba, Studebaker is 6-foot-3 with a Hemi for a motor. In 2009, he replaced an injured Mike Vrabel against Pittsburgh and picked Ben Roethlisberger off twice. He’s a special teams whiz, a plugger, a former sixth-round pick out of tiny, Division-III Wheaton (Ill.) College.
As a role player, he fits. As a substitute for one of the best pass rushers in the game, he’s a complete unknown.
“You just take opportunities when they come; you don’t know how they’re going to come,” Studebaker said Monday. “That’s why you work hard every single day, whether you’re a backup, whether you’re a starter, because (at) some time your team is going to need you.”
At the moment, the Chiefs need a rabbit’s foot. Or Shawne Merriman. Or an exorcist. Not necessarily in that order.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org