ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Tamba Hali didn’t turn down a single autograph request.
Even after a grueling two-hour workout on the campus of Missouri Western State University on Thursday, the star outside linebacker signed autographs for more than half an hour.
In Hali’s world, nothing gets done halfway.
“I try not to be too much of a vocal leader. I get tired of talking,” Hali said after leaving the practice field. “My thing is come out, work hard. Whatever the coach says, do it. Do it like you love it, even if you don’t.”
While Hali continues to lead by example, his role is changing a bit this year.
The 28-year-old Penn State product serves as the elder statesman and most experienced player on Kansas City’s defense, a unit that ranked in the top half of the league last year. Hali led the Chiefs in sacks five of his first six seasons after Kansas City took him with a first-round draft choice in 2006.
Not the most heralded collegiate player, Hali continued to hone his craft before breaking out with 14.5 sacks during the 2010 season.
Coming off a 7-9 season, the Chiefs are counting on Hali to help the younger players around him develop. That starts with his relentless work ethic, which often leads him to be the first player on the field before practice and the last one to leave.
“You’ve got to come out here and perform and show leadership, but it feels good,” Hali said. “I’m getting old. The body feels old, but every time we touch the field, we feel young again.”
Hali’s penchant for keeping quiet extends to interacting with the other linebackers.
That doesn’t mean they don’t pay attention to his actions. Hali’s intensity shows throughout practices and games. He recorded seven or more sacks in all but one of his seasons and has put up 35 in the past three seasons alone.
Hali also has 22 forced fumbles in his career, a product of his edge-rushing style that often creates havoc for Kansas City’s opponents.
“I think he’s got a good gift,” Chiefs outside linebacker Andy Studebaker said. “You watch Tamba — when he rushes the passer, especially — there are some things that he does that you just think, ‘Man, that’s something not a lot of guys in the NFL can do.’ Obviously, you watch him closely ... you think, ‘What’s he doing there? And what can we do to mimic it?’”
Hali serves as the prototypical outside player in Kansas City’s 3-4 defense, and coach Romeo Crennel says Hali’s demeanor and veteran status set the bar for young players coming into Kansas City hoping to contribute.
“You see him play, you see the energy he displays when he plays the game,” Crennel said. “That’s what he is. He’s a high-energy guy; he’s always working at his craft, trying to get better all the time. That’s what he brings to the table, and the guys in the locker room appreciate the energy he brings.”
Hali, who has four years remaining on the contract he signed last year, enters his seventh season coming off a career-high 83 tackles. He’s a good bet to add to his career total of 53 sacks, already fourth-best in Chiefs history.
Hali didn’t stay in Kansas City without goals in mind, and he’s keeping those goals big.
“We’ve got to win the AFC West,” he said. “That’s our primary goal. Once we get into the dance, then we have another goal from there.”
The Chiefs are hoping the rest of his teammates follow his lead in that department, too, and expect to succeed in 2012.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Aug. 10 — ARIZONA, 7 p.m. (KCTV 5)
Aug. 18 — At St. Louis, 7 p.m. (KCTV 5)
Aug. 24 — SEATTLE, 7 p.m. (KCTV 5)
Aug. 30 — At Green Bay, 6 p.m. (KCTV 5)
Sept. 9 — ATLANTA, noon (FOX)
Sept. 16 — At Buffalo, noon (CBS)
Sept. 23 — At New Orleans, noon (CBS)
Sept. 30 — SAN DIEGO, noon (CBS)
Oct. 7 — BALTIMORE, noon (CBS)
Oct. 14 — At Tampa Bay, noon (CBS)
Oct. 21 — BYE
Oct. 28 — OAKLAND, 3:05 p.m. (CBS)
Nov. 1 — At San Diego, Thursday Night Football, 7:20 p.m. (NFL Network)
Nov. 12 — At Pittsburgh, Monday NIght Football, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Nov. 18 — CINCINNATI, noon (CBS)
Nov. 25 — DENVER, noon (CBS)
Dec. 2 — CAROLINA, noon (FOX)
Dec. 9 — At Cleveland, noon (CBS)
Dec. 16 — At Oakland, 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
Dec. 23 — INDIANAPOLIS, noon (CBS)
Dec. 30 — At Denver, 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
(Game times for weeks 11-17 are subject to change)