ATHENS - Justin Houston was back at the Georgia football facility on Monday, supporting his old teammates as they went through pro day. Last year it was Houston, having just decided to skip his senior season, who was performing in front of NFL scouts.
Houston left Georgia after leading the SEC in 10 sacks during the regular season. He ended up being picked in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs, for whom he started 10 games, notching 56 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
It was an interesting rookie season for Houston, whose team had an in-season coaching change: Todd Haley was replaced on an interim basis by Romeo Crennel, who eventually got the full-time job. It may be a good fit for Houston: When Crennel was head coach of the Cleveland Browns in the mid-2000s, the defensive coordinator was a guy named Todd Grantham.
Last September, Houston also made waves back home in Georgia when he told a Chiefs beat writer that it was probably time for head coach Mark Richt to go. Houston denies saying that now, as he explained on Monday, along with a number of other subjects:
Q: What was NFL life like, did you like it?
Houston: Oh yes, any time you can continue to play football after college it’sa great thing. I really enjoyed my rookie season. I learned a lot. I had to learn fast. But I learned a lot. Hopefully I can contribute a lot more next year.
Q: What was it kind of weird last year going through a coaching change in the middle of the year?
Houston: It was, but coach did a great job of not switching things up after the season was so far along. He pretty much left things the same so we stayed in the same routine, and it wasn’t such a big deal.
Q: You played in an OLB spot here where you could be free and roam in terms of rushing the QB. How long did it take you to get comfortable in a 3-4 system up there, or is still kind of a process?
Houston: It was a long process, because I did a lot more dropping than I was used to. It was something I had to get adjusted to. But as the season went on I think I adjusted pretty well and caught on really quick.
Q: How about watching the Bulldogs last year and how the Grantham defense did in Year 2?
Houston: “I’m in love with his defense. Coach Grantham, we still communicate, I still talk to him. I know he told the guys: ‘I talk to him more now than when (Justin) was here.’ But I had fun watching the Dogs this past year.”
Q: I know one of the media guys talked to you last year when things were rough for coach Richt. You kind of said it was time for a change. Did your opinion of that evolve as Georgia went on in the season?
Houston: “I want to put this out there: I did not say that. I didn’t even know that was out there. Somebody called and told me about the situation. … I never said nothing like that about coach Richt.
At the time I heard it, I called coach Richt and told coach Richt, let him know, Coach Richt I did not say that. Coach Richt I did not say that. So whatever the rumor was that were going around, that did not come out of my mouth. So I don’t know who started that rumor or how that got started, but I did not say that.
Q: Either way though, the way things finished, you feel like he got through the storm?
Houston: I’m glad he did finish the season off strong. I’m behind coach Richt all the way.
Q: What about with Jarvis Jones: He didn’t take your old spot, Cornelius Washington did, but he racked up the sacks.
Houston: Yeah, he did. I knew he was gonna be good. But I didn’t think he was gonna become a great pass rusher so fast.
Q: This defense prepares you for the NFL?
Houston: “It does. It teaches you, especially the way coach Grantham does it, what everybody is doing instead of what you are doing individually. That helps out a lot, when you know what everybody else is doing it helps you do your role.”
Q: Was it not a surprise when a lot of those guys, like Shawn (Williams), Bacarri (Rambo), Cornelius (Washington) decided to stay for their senior year?
Houston: No, it wasn’t surprising at all. Actually I talked to a couple of those guys and I gave them my opinion. I’m glad they stayed.
Q: Did you tell them it might be a good idea to stay?
Houston: I just gave them the best of both situations, I’m not here to say you should stay or you should go. I’m gonna support you either way you go. They stayed and I’m here to support them.
Q: I guess in retrospect you’re still agree with your decision to go?
Houston: Yeah, my situation was a little different than their situation. I felt like had to, for me and my family. So I had to.