Hali-Days in Kansas City

Kansas City Chiefs second-year defensive end Tamba Hali is preparing for his second season in the NFL. Find out what he learned about becoming a professional football player during his rookie campaign in this feature article by Scout.com NFL Analyst Chris Steuber.

The "Rookie Wall."

It's a term no rookie wants to hear. You try to deny it and play through it until your body begins to tell you that you're in over your head. But in the end, you feel it coming and there's nothing you can do.

Playing the game of football is something Kansas City Chiefs second-year defensive end Tamba Hali has done for years without any adversity. The National Football League is a grueling test of endurance, strength, mental-toughness, and physical anguish. The game is faster. The schedule is tougher. The demands mentally and physically are draining; once you hit the wall… you're down.

Hali understands the meaning of the rookie wall. He admits that the wall closed in on him during a rookie campaign where he posted eight sacks and 63 total tackles; a season where he learned what it takes to be a professional.

"Mentally it's difficult," Hali said. "Physically I thought I had it at first, but you hit the rookie wall, and I hit it at the 11th or 12th week in the season. The speed of the game is really fast. There are so many play calls that a coordinator may call. He may call plays we didn't even practice, but you have to know these plays."

"Being able to adjust to different offenses, knowing you're not only rushing the passer, but you may be asked to drop back in coverage depending on the defensive front you're in. It was a little challenging for me. The transition was hard, but physically I think I was able to hang in there, but mentally it really drains you."

Hali sacks Cardinals QB Matt Leinart
Matt York, AP
One challenge Hali will never forget came from a game in Week 13 of last season, when the Chiefs traveled to Cleveland to take on the Browns. This was a game the Chiefs had in hand, but let slip away late in the fourth quarter.

This game was rough on Hali, because Browns offensive tackle Kelly Butler manhandled him at the line of scrimmage. The defensive lineman remembers this game because of the way he and his team played. The Chiefs led the Browns 28-14 with 8:55 left on the clock, but ended up losing in overtime, 31-28.

This was an experience Hali will never forget.

"I heard he was talking a little noise over there in Cleveland," Hali said. "He was able to block me really well the entire game and I was frustrated. I give him his credit for that game, but if we match up again, I'll be ready."

Hali learned from his mistakes in that game and he understands that mentally he has to bring his "A" game every Sunday. The transition from Saturdays to Sundays may be looked at as a huge step, especially in training camp. NFL training camps are grueling and outlandish and not something any player takes lightly. But Hali believes college and professional training camps are similar, but different in the way you handle the task at hand.

"It's [training camp] hard in the pros if you're not ready for it," he said. "In college it was harder, but we were ready for it. We trained all year around. They make it really hard in college. I don't know why. The way Coach Paterno ran things; we had a losing season for two years in a row while I was at Penn State, so he made those training camps hard. We had to condition. We had to do four gassers before we'd even start practice. Then in the middle of practice, we would do more gassers.

"It was harder in college. In the NFL, if you're not ready, it's hard because it's fast and these guys know what they're doing out there. These guys have been doing this for years, so when they get to training camp, they're ready to go."

One difference in Kansas City's training camp this year was the addition of HBO cameras in their camp. HBO has been covering the Chiefs for their "Hard Knocks" series, which airs on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. "Hard Knocks" gives fans an inside look into an NFL training camp, and it gives you a feel for what it's like being a coach, a player, and even a general manager. It's the closest thing to a reality show in sports, and the realism and candid nature is endearing and draws you in from the moment the show begins.

"They really work us on the field; it's real," Hali said. "It's not scripted. The only thing that is scripted is the people who're going to be mic'd up for the day. It's as real as you can get."

The speed of the game really comes across in the show, and for any young player in the league they understand that's the biggest transition from college to the pros. Whether it's in the weight room, classroom, or on the field, everything at the professional level is quicker and more precise.

"If you know what you're doing, in anything, you're probably going to do it faster and quicker and more efficient," Hali said. "As a freshman in college, I played fast, but I didn't know what I was doing so I made a lot of mistakes. As I got older, I played even faster, because I knew what I was doing and I was used to it. I think when you come into the league guys know what they're doing, and they've been in this position and they play much faster."

If the game starts to slow down for Hali and he's able to play at a higher, faster level than the opposition, he's going to run through any wall that stands in his way.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.

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