Chiefs linebacker Houston emerging as sack master

Associated Press  |  Last updated September 28, 2012
(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
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Kings engaging in trade talks for Cousins

Report: Romo willing to rework contract to facilitate trade

Lonzo Ball's father says son is better than Curry right now

Report: Rams could have interest in Cousins if Goff flops

Report: Butler to Celtics talk will loom over All-Star week

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Carmelo expects to remain with Knicks

James Harden: ‘For sure’ I’m the best player in the world

Report: Pats expected to make good effort to keep Bennett

Glenn Robinson III dunks over three people to win Slam Dunk Contest

Kevin Durant booed at All-Star introductions in New Orleans

Charles Oakley joins Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league

Is the NBA All-Star Game worth saving?

There will never be another Dirk Nowitzki

The Rewind: Michael Jordan's last All-Star Game

Best of Yardbarker: NBA All-Star Games past, present and future

Eat, Drink, Watch: Everything goes better with a side of New Orleans

Box Score 2/17: Happy birthday, Michael Jordan (and welcome to 1000 point club, Sid!)

The 'Michael Jordan might still win the Dunk contest if he entered' quiz

How to reboot NBA All-Star Weekend

Second-year NBA stars who can salvage the season

Observations from a day at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Box Score 2/16: Getting ready for the ASG

Too much to Process: Can Simmons match the Embiid hype?

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!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Best of YB: NBA All-Star Games past, present and future

Who will break these NBA All-Star Game records?

Is the NBA All-Star Game worth saving?

There will never be another Dirk Nowitzki

The Rewind: Michael Jordan's last All-Star Game

Eat, Drink, Watch: Everything goes better with a side of New Orleans

How to reboot NBA All-Star Weekend

Baseball movies you can stream now to hold you over until Opening Day

Second-year NBA stars who can salvage the season

Observations from a day at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker