NFL suspends Chiefs LB Tamba Hali 1 game

Injuries could already keep two defensive starters out of the

Chiefs’ season-opener against Atlanta. Now, a suspension has

sidelined their best pass rusher.

Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali will miss the Sept. 9 game

against the Falcons without pay after violating the NFLs

substance-abuse policy, the league said Monday. Hali will be fined

an additional game check and be eligible to return in Week 2.

The league did not disclose the nature of the violation and Hali

did not speak to the media after practice, instead issuing a

one-paragraph statement through the team.

”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,” Hali said.

The Chiefs are already missing starting cornerback Brandon

Flowers, who has been sidelined by a nagging foot injury, and

safety Kendrick Lewis, who hurt his right shoulder in Friday

night’s preseason game against St. Louis. It’s unknown when either

of them will be back.

It’s perfectly clear when Hali will return: at Buffalo on Sept.

16.

”Tamba’s situation is unfortunate,” Chiefs general manager

Scott Pioli said in a statement. ”Obviously we are disappointed

and will miss him during the suspension, but the NFL’s policies are

very clear and we respect the league’s decision in this

matter.”

Hali long ago established himself as the Chiefs’ best pass

rusher, reaching his first Pro Bowl last season alongside fellow

linebacker Derrick Johnson.

The former first-round draft pick has started every game he’s

played the past six seasons. The past two years have been his best

– Hali had 14 1/2 sacks two years ago and 12 last season, when he

helped a team ravaged by injuries to the doorstep of the

playoffs.

”We’re disappointed. We’re disappointed for him, for the team,

for the organization and the fans, but it is what it is,” Chiefs

coach Romeo Crennel said. ”He’s a guy who is very prideful, he’s

been a very good team member for this team, and I think the team

will rally around him.”

Indeed, Hali has become one of the faces of the franchise, even

though he goes about his business away from the spotlight. He

routinely signs hundreds of autographs for fans and is known for

his charitable work in the community, but he rarely speaks to the

media.

Instead, Hali lets his performance speak for itself.

He’s racked up 266 tackles and 53 1/2 sacks in his career, along

with an interception and a safety. He’s also forced 22 fumbles,

many of them after tearing around some woebegone offensive tackle

and swiping the ball from the hands of an unsuspecting

quarterback.

It was little surprise that Pioli made signing Hali to a

long-term deal a priority, and the sides agreed last season on a

five-year, $60 million contract with $35 million guaranteed.

”You have to step up,” Johnson said of Hali’s suspension.

”It’s just like having an injury. This is the NFL, and we’ll

handle it like pros.”

Crennel said that Hali will practice with the team throughout

the preseason, but indicated that it could become a balancing act

between keeping him in the rotation and making sure that the guys

available for the regular-season opener are prepared.

Andy Studebaker is the first in line to replace Hali in the base

defense.

He’s a former sixth-round pick who has turned into a valuable

backup in Kansas City, where he’s started seven of the 54 games

he’s played across four seasons. But he’s not known for putting

pressure on the quarterback, something the Chiefs will sorely miss

with Hali on the sideline.

”You know, we always look at guys and what’s going to happen,

but Studebaker has played both left and right for us,” Crennel

said. ”We’ll look the next week and half and see how it goes, and

when we start preparing for the Atlanta game, we’ll determine how

we’re going to approach it.”

The other option is Cameron Sheffield, who played sparingly in

all 16 games last year.

Sheffield has shown some ability to pressure the passer, but

only has nine career tackles and is more likely to see time on the

field in the Chiefs’ sub package.

That means linebacker Justin Houston, who starts on the opposite

side of the defense, will be critical to putting pressure on

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and trying to disrupt the timing

with a talented wide receiver corps that features Roddy White and

Julio Jones.

”You don’t have the rush ability that Tamba brings to the table

from everybody else,” Crennel said, ”but I expect everybody step

up to provide some pass rush.”