New Players, Old Tricks: The Falcon Is Back

As Tamba Hali prepared for Saturday night's preseason contest against the St. Louis Rams, he was practicing with a well-kept secret. All of his work in zone drops, all of his work from the two-point stance and all of his work at outside linebacker meant that he'd soon be commissioned by his defensive coordinator to pick up a long abandoned position: the Falcon.

Preparation In the Chiefs' final session of two-a-day practices, Hali was one of the last players to leave the field. While most of his teammates had completed their work and were bolting for the locker room, Hali stayed behind. He worked on extra conditioning, ran more drills, and received additional one-on-one coaching.

Upon completing his extra work, Hali's level of fatigue was apparent. Sweating profusely and gasping for air, he made his way towards the practice facility with almost a stagger instead of a walk.

Thirty minutes later, he emerged from the showers and gingerly approached his locker. He was visibly exhausted. A lesser man would have crawled, but Hali held his poise until he reached his stool and set it on the floor.

After sitting down, Hali slumped over and hung his head. At the time, he appeared to barely have enough strength to lift his shoe lace. Today he had pushed himself to his limits, but this was no different than any other day. Hali understands the price to be paid for greatness.

Inspiration Hali's work ethic and mental toughness are surely the reasons that prompted defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to dust off his old playbooks. These are the same playbooks that Kansas City hasn't seen since the 1990's. The same playbooks that produced 13-3 seasons with a Hall-Of-Fame pass rusher as the weapon of choice.

When you talk to people that were around Arrowhead Stadium in the late 1990's, the things they say about the late Derrick Thomas are also true about Hali. Toughness is typically at the top of the list. One of his former teammates once told me that people don't realize just how tough Thomas was.

"That was really the best part of his game," said Thomas' teammate. "He was the toughest person I've ever seen."

You can say the same for Hali. Not everyone would argue that he's the toughest player on the current roster.

Thomas and Hali will also draw comparisons due to their similar roles as pass rushers. Surely it must have given fans an eerie feeling on Saturday night when they saw Hali buzz past Rams' left tackle Todd Steussie and sack Marc Bulger with a subsequent strip. Not only did Hali come from Derrick's old position on the field, he also happened to be in Derrick's old defense: The Falcon.

Application The Chiefs have been keeping this secret for awhile now. Even as the media watched the 3-4 formation suddenly become a focal point of last week's practices, the Falcon defense was never fully shown. Even if it had been, the media wouldn't have reported it, because most would have assumed that it wouldn't be revealed until the season opener against Cincinnati. Any divulgence of such information would rightfully jeopardize a reporter's credential.

But for whatever reason, the Chiefs felt compelled to unveil their Falcon package two weeks early. They probably didn't do it to please the crowd. Most likely, it was simply an attempt to acclimate Hali to his new role in a live game situation.

Duplication Although the Chiefs might not agree the defense they ran last night is the same Falcon defense they ran in 1997, the two are strikingly similar. Both defenses are 3-4 schemes with the versatility to instantly switch to a 4-3. Both of them also utilize a single pass-rush specialist that has the freedom to line up in any defensive gap. Most 3-4 schemes play their outside linebackers in the "C" gaps.

The primary purpose of the "rush end/backer," or "Falcon," is to find a single weak link in pass protection and continually exploit it. This player's lack of restriction when it comes to gap assignments can also cause a great deal of confusion for the offensive line. Occasionally, the defender will come through untouched because no one commits to picking him up (it's not uncommon to see this happen with a normal blitz, either).

There is one distinct difference between the 97 Falcon and the 06 Falcon. The newer version will likely be nothing more than a defensive "package." The version used in 1997 was Kansas City's base defense. The 3-4 defense is not by any means a permanent four-down fixture for the Chiefs, but rather a single tool in their arsenal that can be used as it fits against particular opponents.

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