Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston comes into the 2012 season with high expectations.
Houston emerged late last year with 5.5 sacks over the final five games of the season. Another year working under new head coach and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and starting opposite All-Pro linebacker Tamba Hali for a full season all point toward a breakout campaign for the former third-round pick out of the University of Georgia.
But after reports that Hali will be suspended for the Week 1 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Houston will need to prove rather quickly that all the hype surrounding him is closer to a reality than delusion.
Houston was considered a first-round talent coming out of college. But after testing positive for marijuana at the 2011 NFL Combine, interest in him wavered. Falling into the third round, the Chiefs decided to take a chance on Houston, a decision that could eventually land them the steal of the entire 2011 draft class.
That transition into a formidable NFL pass-rusher begins this season, and the spotlight will be bright when Matt Ryan and Co. take their first snap on September 9.
Hali and Houston have the potential to form the best pass-rushing tandem the Chiefs have had since Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks in the 1990s.
While the Chiefs will suffer mightily with Hali out of the lineup against the Falcons’ potent offense, Houston will benefit from being relied upon to shoulder the load that Hali has carried his entire career.
If Houston can pass the test, the remaining 15 games of the 2012 season could remind Chiefs fans of the field days that No. 58 and 90 used to endure in Kansas City.