DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Tamba Hali remembers when he first joined the Kansas City Chiefs as a wide-eyed rookie out of Penn State. The outside linebacker was put into the starting lineup opposite pass-rush specialist Jared Allen, a rising star in the NFL.
Hali figured he could learn the ropes from Allen, maybe pick up a couple tips on how to make it as a pro. But it turned out Allen was consumed by a bitter spat with then-general manager Carl Peterson, leaving Hali to figure a lot of things out on his own.
“Jared had success but I wasn’t getting the knowledge I needed from him,” Hali said, “and when he went” — Allen was traded to Minnesota a year later — “it was a struggle.”
It was then that Hali vowed to pass along his own wisdom someday.
When Justin Houston was drafted by the Chiefs in 2011, Hali saw an opportunity to fulfill his promise. He took the third-round draft pick under his wing, helping him break down film while passing along five years’ worth of knowledge when it came to bagging a quarterback.
Last year, both of the linebackers earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, and they’re both off to flying starts this season. Hali returned an interception for a touchdown in a 28-2 victory over Jacksonville last Sunday, while Houston earned league honors for a three-sack performance.
“He helped me a lot, me personally,” Houston said. “A lot of things I’m doing are because of him. He taught me so much about the pass-rush game. He’s a great teacher, on and off the field.”
To his credit, Hali has made quite a career for himself without Allen’s help.
He’s played all but two games as he enters his eighth year in the league, and his best seasons have been his most recent. He had a career-best 14½ sacks in 2010, which helped land him a five-year, $60 million contract. He had 12 sacks in making his first Pro Bowl the following year, and finished with nine more sacks while playing in 15 games a season ago.
All told, Hali has 62½ sacks in his career, trailing only Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith and Art Still for the most in franchise history. Still had 73 sacks from 1978-87.
“It’s a competing thing in our defense,” Hali explained. “I’m playing well so someone else wants to play well. We don’t want to just rely on one person to get the job done.”
That’s hardly a problem with Houston on the other side of the defense.
He had 5½ sacks as a rookie but broke through last season, piling up 10 sacks and making his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He also had an interception, recovered a fumble and caused a safety.
Houston has carried the momentum into this season, too. He terrorized Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the opener, finishing with the third three-sack game of his career. No other player in the league had as many sacks as Houston in Week 1.
The Chiefs wound up with six sacks as a team, their most in nearly two years. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, defensive end Tyson Jackson and safety Eric Berry had the other ones.
“When one guy makes a play, the next guy makes a play,” Houston said. “We strive for that.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who’s been tasked with getting the most out of Hali and Houston, said the way they play off each other is part of what makes them special.
“These guys genuinely enjoy play with each other. They enjoy each other as teammates. They have fun with each other,” Sutton said. “It seems strange, but we always tell them, ‘Hey, this is a hard game but we can have fun, we can enjoy what we’re doing.'”
Of course, it’s a lot easier to enjoy when the sacks are piling up.
Notes: RB Jamaal Charles (bruised quad) was back at practice Thursday after missing the previous day’s work out. Coach Andy Reid has said he expects Charles to be OK for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. … DB Dunta Robinson remained absent due to a family issue.
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