Posted September 28, 2012 on AP on Fox
(Eds: With AP Photos.) By DAVE SKRETTA AP Sports Writer It wasn't until the middle of last season that Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, the defensive coordinator at the time, finally saw the light come on for linebacker Justin Houston. The technique, the scheme, the speed of the game - it all clicked one night in Chicago. The third-round draft pick with the first-round talent finally secured his first sack in Week 13 at Soldier Field, and he hasn't stopped since. Houston had three that night, a couple more by the end of the year, and already has four sacks through the first three weeks this season. Three of them came in last Sunday's overtime victory at New Orleans. ''He had a lot of stuff that he had to learn,'' Crennel said. ''About halfway through the season, he began to get comfortable with his assignments and what we were asking him to do.'' Houston was a big reason why Kansas City managed to dig out of an 18-point hole against the Saints, and then finish off the biggest comeback in franchise history. His sack of Drew Brees with 5:33 left in regulation resulted in a safety that got the Chiefs within 24-21, close enough for Ryan Succop to bang through the 43-yard field goal that forced overtime. Succop wound up hitting from 31 yards in the extra session to win the game. ''Truth be told, I didn't know it was a sack until I got up,'' Houston said Thursday, ''and everybody was throwing up the sign for a safety.'' Nobody disputes that the talent was always there. Houston redshirted at Georgia, but made an immediate impact when he finally got on the field. He started 24 of his 36 games over three seasons, flourishing when he moved from defensive end to outside linebacker as the team shifted to a 3-4 defense, similar to what the Chiefs use. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound pass rusher has underappreciated quickness off the line of scrimmage, and his raw power allows him to shed woebegone offensive tackles seemingly with ease. In many ways, the only thing holding Houston back was himself. He was suspended by Bulldogs coach Mark Richt for the first two games of the 2009 season for an undetermined ''violation of team rules,'' and he slid into the third round of the draft when there were reportedly some character questions raised at the NFL scouting combine. The Chiefs finally selected Houston to complement to Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali, who has been terrorizing quarterbacks from the other side for years. And any questions about his character have been answered by this simple fact: Houston has been a model teammate since his arrival. ''Right now the red dot is on him,'' Houston said of Hali, who parlayed a similar start to his career into a five-year, $60 million contract before last season. ''Hopefully it stays on him,'' Houston said, ''so I keep getting sacks.'' Houston's breakout finish last season earned him the Mack Lee Hill Award, given to the club's top rookie or first-year player, and his first three games this season put him in select company. His 9 1/2 sacks since that night in Chicago, a span of eight games, are tied for most in the NFL with Jared Allen of the Vikings and DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys. ''Physically, he's an absolute freak,'' Hali said. ''I think Justin is learning how to go about the technique. ... The kid is good.'' His production has been invaluable, since Hali was suspended for the season opener for testing positive for a banned substance and has been held without a sack in his first two games back. ''The speed of the game has slowed down,'' Houston said. "I feel like I'm doing my job. They brought me in here to put pressure on the quarterback.'' Like most young players, Crennel is keenly aware that Houston would rather pin his ears back and go after the quarterback on every down, rather than drop back into coverage or play the run. But he still finished with 70 tackles last season, sixth on the team, and is fourth on the team in stops this season. He also is tied for the team lead with a couple of pass deflections, a big reason the Chiefs' overall defense has improved dramatically from Week 1. ''He understands that in our system we ask him to do more,'' Crennel said. ''When he does more, he helps the team. I think that's what he is concerned about, helping this team win.'' --- Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

Ready or not, Chiefs' Lilja takes center stage

KANSAS CITY, Mo. The last time Chiefs guard Ryan Lilja had to play center in an NFL game before last Sunday was...well...never. In fact, Lilja, who now becomes the Chiefs' starting center because of Rodney Hudson's season-ending injury, can't remember playing the position in college or high school or even Pee Wee football, for that matter. OK, there was that one time...

Fantasy Football 2012: Will Rodney Hudson Injury Hurt Jamaal Charles And Kansas City Chiefs Running Game?

Kansas City Chiefs center Rodney Hudson is not on anyone’s fantasy football team in 2012. Most owners have absolutely no idea who Hudson even is, as he is not eligible to be drafted or picked up off of waivers in any league. So tell me how it could be that his injury could hurt so many fantasy teams going forward? It is simple. Although Hudson is not on any fantasy team, Jamaal...

Chiefs center to miss reason of season

Kansas City has lost starting center Rodney Hudson for the remainder of the season and Ryan Lilja is expected to step into his spot for the Chiefs. Hudson, a second-round draft pick in 2011, suffered a broken leg in the Chiefs' win over New Orleans on Sunday and was placed on injured reserve. Lilja will slide over from left guard and Jeff Allen will take Lilja's place...

Chiefs LB Houston emerging as sack master

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) It wasn't until the middle of last season that Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, the defensive coordinator at the time, finally saw the light come on for linebacker Justin Houston. The technique, the scheme, the speed of the game - it all clicked one night in Chicago. The third-round draft pick with the first-round talent finally secured his first sack in Week...

Dwayne Bowe Limited by Injured Thigh Thursday

Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe was limited Thursday because of an injured thigh.Fantasy Spin:Bowe is the team's only top-tier receiver so if he can't go Sunday versus the Chargers, it would be a huge blow to quarterback Matt Cassel's fantasy value. We're not sure of the extent of Bowe's injury and the fact that he's being described as "limited" as opposed...

Dwayne Bowe Listed as Questionable

Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe (groin) has been listed as questionable for Week 4 against San Diego. He's been limited in practice on Thursday and Friday.Fantasy Spin:Bowe is the team's only top-tier receiver so if he can't go Sunday versus the Chargers, it would be a huge blow to quarterback Matt Cassel's fantasy value. We should know Bowe's status early Sunday since...

Dwayne Bowe limited in practice with thigh injury

According to Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star, Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was limited in Thursday practice because of a thigh injury.  Fellow wide receiver Steve Breaston has a sore knee and will try to practice. I’m sure Bowe and Breaston will be fine for Sunday’s game.  We’ll monitor them as we get closer to game day.

Flanny's Picks: Week 4

LAST WEEK STRAIGHT UP: 7-9SEASON STRAIGHT UP: 28-20LAST WEEK VS. SPREAD: 6-10SEASON VS. SPREAD: 22-26 CHARGERS (-3) AT CHIEFS The Chiefs' season-saving win at New Orleans could really carry some weight if they follow it up by stopping the Chargers here at home. To do so, the Chiefs' defense will have to continue to fly to the ball as it did in the second half against...

Chargers-Chiefs Preview

Nothing went right for the Kansas City Chiefs in their first two games while little could have gone better for the San Diego Chargers. Week 3 was a considerably different story. The Chiefs look to build off their stunning comeback victory Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chargers are hoping to bounce back from an ugly no-show. San Diego's early season struggles were...

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs NFL Week 4 AFC West Preview

The AFC West is getting worse than the Big Ten these days and that is thanks to both of the favorites performing like duds lately. Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense has been a joke without a healthy Ryan Mathews in the backfield, but they should be in contention for a division title all season long. Rivers has 4 TD and 3 INT, but 688 yards are skewed numbers once you realize...

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: Baldwin To Make Impact

The San Diego Chargers take their 2-1 first place record into Arrowhead Sunday to face the Kansas City Chiefs 1-2.Arrowhead has been a house of horrors for the Chargers of late.Last year quarterback Philip Rivers fumbled the ball, while trying to kneel down and end the game with 1:03 left. Kansas City recovered the fumble.In overtime, Chiefs kicker Ryan Succup nailed a game-winning...

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: Week 4 NFL Pick

San Diego Chargers (2-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) Looks like the Chargers aren’t over their early season woes. They beat two crappy teams in week 1 and 2, but much like last year, they got destroyed once they played a real opponent. Last year they started 4-1, beating crappy teams, most of them by small margins, but lost 6 straight once the schedule got harder. Before last year...
NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.