Tamba Hali strolled into the Chiefs’ locker room Wednesday, limp free and soaking wet from head-to-toe.
Hali had just finished running in a pool in an effort to test the right ankle he injured in the Chiefs’ 41-38 loss to San Diego on Sunday. The injury looked bad at the time; the star outside linebacker couldn’t walk off the field on his own and was carried away on a cart.
But only a few days later, Hali was happy and relieved to tell the reporters who swarmed his locker that he was optimistic about his chances of playing in the Chiefs’ rematch against Denver on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I plan on playing,” Hali said. “I think it was an ankle sprain, a first-degree (one). (It’s) just a blessing I’m able to jump back and start doing things.”
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Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the news was still unclear on Justin Houston, Hali’s pass-rushing counterpart at outside linebacker. Houston, who suffered a subluxation of his right elbow, was able to have an MRI on Wednesday after the swelling was too great on Monday and Tuesday. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Houston could miss two to three weeks.
While Chiefs coach Andy Reid didn’t address Houston’s prognosis, he affirmed Hali’s belief that he will play this week. Hali participated in the morning walkthrough Wednesday and also in pre-practice drills (without a helmet), though he didn’t practice, presumably as a precaution.
“Every day he has made progress,” Reid said. “That he went through the walkthrough (today), I thought was a big step. He’s gonna tell me he’s gonna play we’ve gotta make sure that (it’s) safe (for him) to be out there. We’re not gonna put him in a position where he furthers the injury.”
That said, when asked whether he feels 100 percent, Hali said he doesn’t.
“I wouldn’t say that (I am),” Hali said. “I know I could push off (on it). I haven’t cut yet but I know I could push off. I haven’t run yet, but I believe I can do it because I’ve been doing it in on the treadmill.”
So, while Hali is relieved the injury isn’t worse, he is determined not to put himself in position where he could injure it further.
“(It’s) just being honest with my body and myself,” Hali said. “If I can play, I can play. If I can’t play, I’m not gonna force it. And I’m feeling real optimistic about being out there.”
Hali and Houston have accounted for 20 of the Chiefs’ 37 sacks this season. Houston has 11 sacks; Hali nine.
Hali was hurt on the first play of the second quarter and Houston went down during the Chargers’ last possession of the first half Sunday.
“My foot got stuck in the ground and it rolled,” Hali said. “I just thought I’d be fine. I felt like I could play through it. You want to get it taped. But then every time I pushed, I could barely walk.”
The Chargers scored 38 points against the Chiefs without Houston and Hali on the field. Hali was replaced by veteran Frank Zombo, and Houston was replaced by second-year man Dezman Moses. Between them, they generated one pressure in 55 rushes, according to Pro Football Focus. Houston and Hali had two pressures each on San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers in 19 pass rushes.
“Justin and I were in the training room watching the game, and we could tell we were needed because of our experience and how ... hungry (we are) to get to the quarterback,” Hali said. “Our offense played well. Those are the type of games we need to be in because when they put us up like that, then we know we can pin our ears back and just be relentless.”
With the rematch against Denver and star quarterback Peyton Manning looming, Hali knows things won’t get any easier for the Chiefs’ pass rush this week.
When the Chiefs and Broncos met Nov. 17, Denver prevailed 27-17 as Manning completed 24 of 40 passes for 323 yards and a touchdown while the Chiefs failed to record a sack or a quarterback hit.
“He knows where he’s going with the ball,” Hali said. “As far as us rushing, we’ve got to just be a little quicker ... but watching the (Denver-New England) game the other night, he held the ball sometimes there. In our game, no, the ball was coming out. We’ve just gotta make sure that when we’re rushing, we’re giving them our best shot, taking the best route to get there.”
Toward the end of his session with the media Wednesday, Hali was again asked whether he feels like he’ll be healthy enough to be a part of that pass-rush effort Sunday. Once again, he cheerfully answered in the affirmative.
“Yeah, I’ll be ready to go,” Hali said. “This is the game we play. I can’t have doubts. If I wasn’t feeling good today, I’d probably say ‘I don’t know.’ But where I’m at right now, I’m very positive about playing on Sunday.”