What's Next For Hali?

Tamba Hali got off to a sizzling start in his first NFL season. Over the first seven weeks he collected 19 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Then he seemed to run into a wall.

Hali went four games in the middle of the season without registering a sack or a turnover, managing two or fewer tackles in three of those games. Did he hit the infamous "rookie wall" that seems to plague almost every first-year NFL player?

Probably. It would be foolish to think otherwise, but I don't believe it was his biggest problem.

Against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 5, Hali injured his hip. For a guy who relies so much on short-area explosion and power, that's a tough ailment to play with. We saw it with Priest Holmes (to a much greater degree) after 2002, and we saw it with Hali last year in the middle of the season.

Fortunately, Hali would rebound and end the season with 4.5 sacks over the last six games. That's the Tamba Hali Chiefs fans want to see next season. Will they get what they want?

The dreaded sophomore slump looms like a guillotine over every second-year player in the NFL, threatening to cut off their production. How does it affect defensive ends, and will Hali fall victim to it?

In order to answer the first part of that question, I went back and looked at every notable defensive end drafted since 1995.

What I found was that for players who enjoyed solid rookie campaigns as Hali did, sophomore slumps were few and far between. In fact, out of about 40 defensive ends, I could only find about 13 who suffered a drop in production in their second year.

And that 13 included players like Jevon Kearse and Dwight Freeney, players who did see their numbers decline, but only slightly. In Kearse's case, for instance, he dropped from 14.5 to 11.5 sacks, while Freeney went from 13 to 11. Hardly a "slump" at all.

Considering his work ethic, high motor and passion for the game, I don't foresee a rough 2007 season for Hali. When you consider the defensive line talent the Chiefs acquired this offseason, the outlook is even better.

Hali played 2006 next to marginal defensive tackles such as Ryan Sims, Jimmy Wilkerson, Ron Edwards and James Reed. Given the choice between double-teaming one of those players and Hali, most offensive coordinators chose Hali.

Of course, that very fact could prove to be an issue for the Penn State product in 2007. With Jared Allen's coming four-game suspension, Hali will be KC's best pass rusher during the first month of the season. He'll likely face quite a few double teams. We might see a slow start unless another defensive lineman busts out of the gate.

Other than that, Hali just needs to stay healthy. His playing style can lend itself to injury at times, because he plays with such a high energy level. Fatigued players get hurt easier than fresh ones. Pace yourself, Tamba.

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