KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tamba Hali signed a three-year contract to remain with the Kansas City Chiefs this spring under the assumption that the aging linebacker would become a part-time pass-rush specialist.
Hali had better be prepared for regular work.
The Chiefs placed fellow linebackers Justin Houston on the physically unable to perform list and Josh Mauga on injured reserve Tuesday as they trimmed down to the NFL’s 75-player roster limit. Houston is slowly recovering from knee surgery in February and Mauga will have surgery on his hip next week.
“It’s all up to the coaches,” said Hali, who turns 33 in November and is coming off his own knee surgery. “If he wants me in there more, I’m in there more.”
Hali was reduced to playing only in games last season, the pain and swelling in his balky left knee too much to deal with in practice. The offseason procedure was supposed to clean everything up, but Hali acknowledged Tuesday that he will probably play through pain the rest of his career.
Not that it’s anything new. Hali remembered playing nose tackle at Penn State with two high ankle sprains. It was “torture” at the time, he said, but taught him to be mentally strong.
“I’ve played through a lot of pain. It’s just part of the game,” he said. “Brainwash sounds like a bad term, but it’s a good term in my eyes. The way I was bred, I learned how to work through it.”
Houston is not expected to return until late this season, if at all — he is due to be examined again by Dr. James Andrews in early October. And that means Kansas City will be desperate for Hali to provide some kind of pass rush. He may not have 14 1/2 sacks like Hali had during his heyday, but replicating the six or so sacks he’s had each of the past two seasons is reasonable.
It would help if the pass rusher on the opposite side helped out.
The Chiefs are hopeful that former first-round pick Dee Ford takes a big step forward. He has been a liability in pass coverage and against the run, but has flashed some ability to get to the quarterback.
“He’s a better player now than he was at the end of last year,” Chiefs linebackers coach Gary Gibbs said. “He’s more physical and has a better grasp of the defense.”
Mauga’s injury means that the starting spot alongside Derrick Johnson opens in the middle of the Kansas City defense. Justin March and Ramik Wilson have been battling for that spot.
Mauga tore the labrum in his hip in early August. He will have surgery on Sept. 8.
The Chiefs also waived wide receiver Mitch Matthews, getting them to 76 players by Tuesday’s deadline. The limit is normally 75, but Kansas City got a roster exemption for All-Pro safety Eric Berry, their franchise player who reported to camp for the first time Sunday.
The Chiefs play their preseason finale Thursday night against Green Bay, then have to trim to the 53-man roster limit Saturday. Their season opener is Sept. 11 against San Diego.
In other news, Jamaal Charles said he will be ready for the opener, even though Reid admitted that Hali was a little ahead of the running back in his recovery. Charles had surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee last season, and along with Hali skipped the first part of training camp.
“I am going full-go right now. I’m out here. I’m practicing,” Charles said. “I could be doing something else, sitting on a coach, watching TV, so I’m happy to be out there with my teammates.”
It remains unclear exactly how much work Charles will get this season. The Chiefs got by so well with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware when Charles got hurt last season that they signed both to long-term contracts, though each of them have slightly different skill sets.
Charles remains the most polished, versatile of the running back trio.
“I’m just happy I’m out here,” Charles said. “Every day is different. I just have to trust when I step on the field, preseason or no preseason, I just got to trust the process.”
NOTES: Few starters, if any, are expected to play against the Packers. Third-string QB Tyler Bray will start the game and Aaron Murray and Kevin Hogan will also play. … The Chiefs waived-injured FB Trey Millard, who tore his ACL in a preseason game against the Rams. He had surgery Monday.