For Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery, positional flexibility carries a lot of weight. Throughout this offseason, Emery has espoused the advantage of having players on the roster who can play multiple positions.
“I liked that versatility, liked the fact that he can slide inside and rush,” Emery said after signing Houston. “He’s rushed at the 3-technique and the nose and right and left both. So that type of versatility really fits into where we’re trying to go with our defense.”
Yet, despite his ability to play both tackle and end, the Bears used Houston exclusively at left defensive end throughout OTAs and minicamp.
All that changed today during the first practice of training camp. Late in the session, Chicago’s coaching staff slid Houston inside to defensive tackle, taking Stephen Paea off the field and replacing him with Willie Young.
“That’s the first time I’ve done that with the Bears,” Houston told Bear Report after practice. “We’re just working on different things, trying to get the best guys out there on the field at the same time.”
With a third-down lineup of Young, Houston, Jeremiah Ratliff and Jared Allen, the Bears are attempting to flood the pass-rush lanes with quick, athletic rushers. Paea, a nose tackle, doesn’t fit that mold, so it only makes sense to keep Houston, one of the team’s best defenders, on the field.
Even better, Houston has plenty of experience at defensive tackle, so this isn’t a foreign move for him. While he worked mainly at defensive end during his four years in Oakland, Houston often slid inside to defensive tackle. And many forget, he was an interior defender during his collegiate career at the University of Texas.
“I have experience playing D-tackle,” said Houston. “I was a D-tackle in college. I didn’t start playing end again until I got in the league, so I’m comfortable.”
His transition inside while in Austin was one of the reasons Emery pursued Houston so heavily in free agency.
“I first got an opportunity to watch him and evaluate him when he was at the University of Texas,” said Emery. “I went through that fall and they had this guy at under tackle, or 3-technique, and he had been at D-end, and it was going to be interesting to see how he handled that. I watched how he matured through that process and showed leadership through that process, and played better and better as the year went on.”
Houston said the biggest difference about playing defensive tackle is the speed at which plays develop.
“Everything is quicker,” he said. “There’s a lot less space, a lot less time and all the plays happen faster for you.”
Emery believes it takes added toughness to shift to tackle.
“When you go from the outside to the inside, the definition of toughness reaches a new level,” Emery said. “There’s a lot more going on at a lot more angles inside.”
It took a few months but the Bears finally did what most assumed they would do when the club signed Houston in April. If he can now flourish at multiple positions, Chicago’s defense should be in good shape this season.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.