Houston might be Batman for Bears’ joker defense
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter March 12, 2014 10:28PM
Updated: March 13, 2014 11:15AM
Lamarr Houston dressed for his close-up Wednesday in a blue dress shirt and a Bears-orange tie. He had a gleaming Batman logo studded in each ear.
“One of my favorite comic-book characters,” he said.
Those expecting the defensive end to be the team’s next superhero — on a squad whose defensive legends are fading away — might want to recalibrate, though.
He’s not Julius Peppers.
He doesn’t have to be.
“I don’t feel like I’m filling big shoes,” he said. “I feel like I’m just doing my job.”
Houston, who signed a five-year, $35 million contract Tuesday, is valuable in his versatility.
By general manager Phil Emery’s count, Houston played 865 snaps on the left side of the Raiders’ defensive line in 2012, with 649 coming with his hand on the ground. He played 40 or 50 downs at tackle.
Last season, though, he rushed from a standing position more than 700 times.
On the right side, his hand was in the dirt — sometimes literally in the only NFL stadium with a baseball infield still part of the playing surface — about 180 times.
He can play anywhere.
On the Bears, he will, starting at defensive end and likely shifting inside on obvious passing downs.
“Left, right, middle — doesn’t matter,” Houston said.
“I think the next step for me is just to prove to people my style of play, who I am as a player.
“It’s not about labels. This game’s never been about labels.”
Houston should know.
A running back and linebacker at Thomas B. Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, Houston moved to defensive end upon his arrival at the University of Texas. Two years later, he shifted to defensive tackle.
“He was one of the best we ever had,” legendary former Texas coach Mack Brown gushed Wednesday. “Chicago will be lucky to have him. He’s so big and so strong and so quick, I think he’s steadily becoming one of the best defensive linemen in the league.”
And he’s only getting better.
Some question his sack total — Houston had a career-high six last year, still 1½ fewer than the departing Peppers — but his run presence was stout.
“Sack totals are important in this league, and mine haven’t been the highest,” he said. “But I know that I will prove to everybody that there’s a reason that I’m here.
“And in the future, it will tell you how good of a player I can be with this group of men and how good of a group we can be together.”
The Bears — tied for last in sacks in 2013 — hope so.
“He’s been a good, productive rusher,” Emery said. “The important part about rushing is that you have several together.”
Over the last two seasons, Houston, who figures to play at around 280 pounds, logged more quarterback disruptions than anyone on the Bears.
The team, Emery admitted, still needs more rushers. And Houston is trying to recruit defensive tackle Henry Melton, his old UT teammate, to return.
When he first moved to the defensive line, Houston focused on learning technique.
“Now it’s more about developing the skill for me,” he said. “I’ve been doing it consistently for four years, and I think right now I’m starting to head toward my potential.”
The first time Houston was recruited — to college — he let Texas’ self-imposed deadline to commit pass.
“He waited and waited and waited,” Brown said. “We thought he wanted to come.
“He called out of the blue: ‘Hey, Coach, if you still want me to come, I’ll come.’
“I said, ‘Why’d you wait?’ ”
He moved much faster the second time around, huddling with his agent Monday night and signing Tuesday.
“I want everybody to know,” he said, “that the Monsters of the Midway are back.”
He won’t have to do it all himself. But if he does, the superhero logos will be warranted.