Justin Houston: He has ‘No Problem’ – healthy Chiefs linebacker says he’s going to be better

Here’s a scary thought, especially for Kansas City Chiefs opposing quarterbacks in 2017: Justin Houston thinks he’ll be better this season than he was in 2014.

How good is that? Let’s refresh your memory. Houston finished the 2014 season with 22 sacks, one-half sack off the NFL record set by Michael Strahan of the New York Giants in2001.

Justin Houston says he’s more than ready to return to old form.

“I feel great,” Houston said at the Chiefs’ training camp on the Missouri Western campus. “I’m ready to get out here and play and have fun and play the whole season.

“Hopefully I return better than what I was in 2014. That’s my goal. My expectations are higher (than they were before the injury). I want to be more dominant than I’ve ever been. That’s my plan and I’m going to work until I get there.”

That noise you just heard was the crackle of bones as quarterbacks trembled around the league.

It’s been a spell since Justin Houston was dominant. He had just 11.5 sacks in 2015 and 2016 combined, after suffering a bad knee injury late in the 2015 season. His 51 tackles in 2015 and 2016 combined are fewer than the totals in three of his four full seasons prior to 2015.

He had knee surgery after the 2015 season and played in just five games last season.

“One injury was the cause for (missing most of) two seasons,” Houston said. “It was just the time of the injury. I got hurt the end of the one year and it lingered on until the next year. It’s not bad luck. It was just one major injury.”

He’s fully healthy, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid believes he will make an impact again.

“He did a great job on his conditioning test,” Reid said. “I think he really worked hard this off-season. He looked good doing what we were doing. We did not do much today football wise. He did good with what we asked him to do.”

The Chiefs did not have a great statistical 2016, despite winning the AFC West with a 12-4 record.

The team ranked 24thin the league last year in terms of yards per game allowed (368.5). They were much better in points per game allowed, ranking eighth with 19.4. The offense was ranked 20thin total yards, 13thin points per game in 2016. A risk-averse offense makes it incumbent on the defense to provide short fields and stop the opposition when they get into scoring position.

Interestingly, the Chiefs have done better statistically without Houston on the field. That probably is because defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is a master at maneuvering pieces around the field to cover gaps. Make no mistake; Houston is a big part of the Chiefs success.

There were few big offseason personnel moves, other than the release of under-productive former stars Jamaal Charles and Jeremy Maclin. While the offense is young at the skill positions, other than quarterback Alex Smith, there is plenty of depth.

On the defensive side, the biggest change was letting nose guard Dontari Poe go in free agency and signing former Philadelphia Eagle Bennie Logan to replace him. The entire draft, with the possible exception of third-round pick Kareem Hunt, a running back out of Temple, was to build for the future. They traded up 17 spots in the first round to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, but he won’t see the field in 2017 unless Smith gets hurt.

Most off-season attention was focused on the Chiefs front office. General manager John Dorsey was relieved of his duties in early June, the same day it was announced Reid had signed a five-year extension.

Sans a lot of player movement, much was made about the players who did not come to some or all of the Organized Team Activities (OTAs), which are optional. Houston was one of those players, along with safety Eric Berry, cornerback Marcus Peters and linebacker Dee Ford.

With training camp underway, Justin Houston — and his teammates — wants to put that mini-controversy to bed.

“Like coach said that’s voluntary,” he said. “It’s not mandatory. If it was meant for us to be here then they would’ve made it mandatory. So it’s not mandatory for us to be there, only during minicamp, which I was here during minicamp.”

Justin Houston thinks it’s simple why the Chiefs will be better in 2017.

“This year we are healthy,” he said. “The main guys are healthy from the start. Last year from the start we didn’t have everybody. This year we have everybody from the start and if we can just keep everybody healthy I think we definitely can make a lot of noise.”

The window appears open for the Chiefs to venture even further into the playoffs than their Divisional Round loss last year to Pittsburgh. There might even be a Super Bowl at the end of the rainbow.

They just have to make sure Justin Houston doesn’t have a problem.

To read more about the Chiefs, check out more of our articles at: http://kcsportspaper.com/category/pro-teams/chiefs/

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Article by David Smale

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