Justin Houston feels “night and day difference” from last year

Jun 13, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) and linebacker Justin Houston (50) leave the field after the mini camp at University of Kansas Health System Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) and linebacker Justin Houston (50) leave the field after the mini camp at University of Kansas Health System Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /
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Justin Houston says there’s a “night and day difference” between how he feels at minicamp this year compared to last season.

The Kansas City Chiefs have likely experienced the same sort of “night and day difference” that Justin Houston used to describe his current good health. After all, they can breathe much easier as a team knowing their overall best defender is feeling strong coming into the 2017 regular season. Speaking from the team’s mandatory minicamp on Tuesday to reporters, Houston described the difference between 2016 and the present.

"“I feel great now. Last year I couldn’t even run at this time. So this is a night and day difference. I feel great just to be able to get up and go without even thinking about it.”"

Three seasons ago, Houston emerged as an elite NFL player, coming up just short of the NFL single-season sack record. He ended that year with 22 sacks and a reputation as one of the best overall linebackers in the NFL. The Chiefs had struck gold in the third round with his selection and the sky seemed the limit, and they richly rewarded him with the largest contract in team history. Then came the injuries.

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Houston has started only 16 games over the last two seasons combined, missing half of the Chiefs games and forcing them to compensate in the pass rushing game. Last year, the Chiefs finished No. 28 overall in the NFL in sacks. Fortunately Dee Ford showed significant progress during the season’s first half, but even then the defense went from elite to great, a slip that can prove the difference in the postseason.

Even on a team with Eric Berry and Marcus Peters, there’s no denying that Houston is the single most important defender on the Chiefs. He’s a game-changer for whom there’s no counterpart on most teams. Even the league’s elite tackles have a near-impossible time containing him. Even more, the focus that Houston draws on the field opens up opportunities for everyone else. He’s the definition of the cliched player who makes everyone around him better.

If the Chiefs are going to compete for a Super Bowl in 2017, it’s definitely going to take a strong season from Houston to get them there. This is a team that can win with its killer defense and the pieces are there to make a run—if they can stay healthy.