KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs' replacement for one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers this Sunday will be an unheralded veteran linebacker out of tiny Wheaton College.
It won't be the first time Andy Studebaker has started a game, but it'll surely be like none other: It's the season-opener against the Atlanta Falcons, and Studebaker will be taking the place of Tamba Hali, who is suspended for Week 1 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Studebaker knows that he can't be Hali, whose 12 sacks last season ranked second in the AFC. Studebaker isn't known for getting after the quarterback anyway. Instead, he's known for grit and determination that not only allowed him to make an NFL roster out of college, but hang around this long.
"You can't go in there being someone you're not," Studebaker said. "For me, I'm going to know my job. I'm going to play as hard as I can. We're going to, as a defense, play hard, know what we're doing, communicate effectively and put ourselves in a position to have a chance."
It's certainly a tall order against Matt Ryan, Roddy White and the rest of the Falcons, especially considering the Chiefs defense could be without several other key defenders.
Safety Kendrick Lewis is expected to miss the game with a shoulder injury, and cornerback Brandon Flowers (heel) and linebacker Derrick Johnson (ankle) have been limited in practice, while their backups — Jalil Brown and Jovan Belcher — are dealing with groin injuries.
That means the Chiefs could be without as many as four starters — or, best-case scenario, some of them at less-than-optimal health — and six guys overall on defense.
"Backups have to be ready to go when they have an opportunity, and be ready to step up and help their team win," Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. "Whoever we put out there, that's what I expect."
Still, that's not the way any team wants to enter a new season, and certainly not the way you want to face the Falcons, who had the league's eighth-best pass offense a year ago.
Ryan dismissed the Chiefs' litany of injuries with rhetoric that made Kansas City's defense sound like the '85 Chicago Bears. But he also conceded that not having Hali staring at him from across the line of scrimmage was something of a blessing.