WESTFIELD — Justin Houston has been more than happy to share his accumulated knowledge with the Indianapolis Colts’ young pass rushers.
A four-time Pro Bowler with the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston was imported this offseason to aid an Indy defense that ranked 19th in the NFL with 38 sacks last season.
He can do that on the field with a rare mix of speed and power that has helped him record 78.5 sacks over an eight-year career. He’ll also answer every question his new teammates have about how he reached those totals.
He just expects the information exchange to be a two-way street.
“I was told you can learn something from a 2-year-old baby,” Houston said. “So always be humble and listen. You never know what you can learn. Just always listen.”
There might not be a better anecdote to describe why general manager Chris Ballard saw Houston as such a good fit for the Colts’ culture.
He’s fit in nearly as seamlessly on the field.
On the first day of training camp at Grand Park Sports Complex, Houston introduced himself to quarterback Jacoby Brissett by breaking through the center of the offensive line and embracing the passer in an impromptu bear hug.
It’s a sight Indianapolis would welcome throughout a regular season schedule that includes dates with accomplished quarterbacks Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Cam Newton.
The ability to slow down those prolific passers will go a long way in determining whether the Colts can live up to their lofty preseason expectations.
Houston is a major key, and his quick transition to the franchise provides early promise.
“He’s buying in to the effort and the mentality (to) which our standards are set,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “So that’s No. 1. And then the power, those are the things that he brings to the table. He could level rush and come back inside and use that extreme power and lean that he has. He’s done a nice job with that — the one-on-one periods as well as team periods. So he brings a lot of power, too.”
On-field communication is a big part of Houston’s process in learning from his new teammates.
He’s trying to get a feel for how the linebackers like to play behind him and how he can help accentuate their games. He’s also building chemistry with his fellow defensive linemen, a group that’s shown both depth and versatility.
It’s an ongoing process Houston is balancing while learning the nuances of a somewhat new position. He was an outside linebacker in Kansas City’s 3-4 scheme and was asked to read and react to the offense.
In Indianapolis, he’s always on the attack.
“As a 3-4 linebacker, you just set the edge the whole time,” Houston said. “But this defense, with my hand down, you gotta play the run game a little different. I’m learning as well as they’re learning. So it’s good for both of us.”
It hasn’t taken him long to win over his new team.
All-pro linebacker Darius Leonard lit up when asked what kind of difference Houston can make for a defense with Super Bowl aspirations.
In just a few short months, Leonard already has picked up a few new tricks.
“He’s a monster,” Leonard said. “Just the way he uses his hands, the way he’s always winning his block or playing two gaps, just his knowledge of the game. He knows what’s coming, and he can tell me exactly what’s coming.”
Houston enjoys the energy of the youngsters around him, and he’s quickly grown to appreciate Eberflus.
The defensive coordinator is notorious for playing no favorites. He’ll dress down an all-pro just as efficiently as an undrafted rookie, and his standards for all-out pursuit of the football never waver.
It’s a continuation of the work ethic Houston learned with the Chiefs.
The defensive end welcomes the daily challenges and praises Eberflus’ results.
“If you want to be great, you gotta work,” Houston said. “And I love that. ’Cause he don’t care who you are, he’s gonna push you. There’s no guy better than the next guy. He don’t care who it is. You’ve got that Colts helmet on, you’re coming to work, you’re on his side of the ball, he’s gonna call you out if you’re lacking. So just be prepared to work. And I love that ’cause it’s gonna bring the best out of you.”