Hali: Building Block for K.C.

The Chiefs needed to make a splash in the draft this year, especially after free agency yielded nothing more than a couple of unproven commodities. Herman Edwards' goal was to make the team younger. The Chiefs flirted with a variety of choices before they keyed in on two players they felt could make an impact in 2006.

On draft day, Kansas City knew they'd make a defensive selection no matter what top offensive talent was available when they drafted. What they wanted to do was make sure that whomever they chose could get on the field immediately.

But the bottom line is that they had to choose skilled football players. Edwards' draft theory is that if you have god-given talent and drive, any other shortcomings can be fixed through coaching.

In that sense, the Chiefs first two selections were almost perfect.

First came defensive end Tamba Hali from Penn State. On draft day, the Chiefs and New York Giants were wooing Hali. Most NFL pundits had the Chiefs taking a wide receiver or North Carolina State defensive end Manny Lawson. Though most believed Lawson would go first and Hali would be selected later, it didn't work out that way. The Chiefs chose Hali at #20 and Lawson went to the 49ers two picks later.

But the Chiefs had plenty of inside information on Hali. His defensive line coach was none other than Larry Johnson, Sr, the father of Kansas City running back Larry Johnson. In fact on draft day, Hali was at Johnson's house when the call came from the Chiefs that he'd been selected as their top draft pick.

Still, not everyone was thrilled with the pick. Hali didn't have a solid work out at Penn State's Pro day and his 40 times were not good. The Chiefs still weren't worried. After all, it's his burst to the quarterback that counts, and Kansas City was satisfied that he could get the job done.

When you first see Hali, he doesn't appear to be that intimidating. During practice, however, he is a force. His motor is relentless and his ability to make a direct line to the quarterback is impressive.

During OTAs and mini-camp there was not an offensive tackle that kept him in check. He was in position to sack the quarterback on numerous occasions and his ability to get his hands up to disrupt passes comes naturally. Many defensive linemen lack that ability, but after watching Hali do in practice, perhaps it will rub off on the rest of his defensive mates.

If Hali can be productive opposite Jared Allen, the Chiefs will have a pair of pass- rush specialists that could elevate the defense to new heights.

With their second pick of the first day, the Chiefs grabbed hard-hitting safety Bernard ‘Bonecrusher' Pollard from Purdue. Again, this was not a popular choice. But that all changed when people saw footage of him laying the wood to running backs and wide receivers.

Word spread that the Chiefs had acquired another hard hitter like former safety Lloyd Burruss. Pollard has similar attributes. He's fast, hard-nosed and tough as nails.

The Chiefs will line him up at strong safety, a position occupied last year by veteran Sammy Knight. Will he be able to make up ground and actually push Knight? That remains to be seen. But Pollard brings an attitude that is missing from the secondary. Safety Greg Wesley used to play with a mean streak but he's struggled the last couple of seasons.

Pollard told Warpaint Illustrated in an interview that he can play either safety position. In fact, he could care less where he plays as long as he gets on the field.

Like Hali, Bonecrusher has a swagger, and during practice he knows where he needs to be on the field at all times. That means little until they do it when it counts, but one thing you can't teach is play-making ability and both of them possess it. Edwards and his staff will take care of the rest.

The Chiefs' recent drafts have been more fruitful than in years past. But the current regime has a clean slate. This was Edwards' first draft as head coach. It was also Bill Kuharich's first as V.P. of Player Personnel. But at first glance, Edwards' decision to draft Hali and Pollard sent a clear message.

He had a plan, and even though some media members felt the picks were a reach, Edwards felt differently. The NFL draft is anything but an exact science and outside of a handful of players, anyone can bust and anyone can become an All-Pro.

There is no guarantee that Hali or Pollard will pan out. In fact, it could take a couple of years before we know anything. But you have to like their make-up. They appear ready to contribute this season. Neither of them has that ‘deer in the headlights' look that generally characterizes young players.

If Edwards and company can get anything out of Hali or Pollard in 2006, Kansas City's defense could be very good during the second half of the season.


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