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 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.