Draft Exclusive 8: Powerful, Explosive

This first-round possibility, who interviewed with the Packers at the Scouting Combine, played in a 3-4 scheme in college and recorded 10 sacks to earn all-American accolades this past season.

To say Justin Houston has the build of a Greek god would be a slap in the face to Houston, not the nameless Greek god.

A typical outside linebacker prospect weighs between 240 and 255 pounds. The 6-foot-3 Houston tipped the scales at a chiseled 270 at the Scouting Combine last week in Indianapolis.

Houston, an all-American at Georgia this past season as a junior, seemingly has the total package for a team like the Packers, who no doubt would like to add a sidekick to All-Pro Clay Matthews in the early rounds of the draft. Houston, a definite first-round prospect, told Packer Report that he had a 15-minute formal interview with Green Bay at the Combine.

To go with his physique, Houston is explosive at the snap and was productive in college in the 3-4 scheme that Georgia installed for last season. He got top-notch coaching from in coordinator/outside linebackers coach Todd Grantham, who had spent the previous two seasons as an assistant in Dallas after stints with the Browns, Texans and Colts.

"The first thing you look for in outside backers is the ability to rush the passer," Grantham told the Memphis Commercial Appeal before the Liberty Bowl in December. "Then, you look at athletic ability, how they can drop into pass coverage. You could tell Justin had all the physical tools as a 4-3 defensive end that would translate into a 3-4 outside linebacker."

To learn the tricks of the outside linebacker trade, Grantham had Houston watch film of one of his players in Dallas: DeMarcus Ware.

"His passion, the way he plays and how he gets to the quarterback," Houston said of what he liked about Ware. "I love the moves he does. I try to emulate every move he does. He's a great pass rusher."

Justin Houston
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Houston has the potential to be just as great with a short-range burst that gives him the ability to run past an offensive tackle and close in on the quarterback in a hurry. His 10-yard time in the 40-yard dash was 1.62 seconds — five-hundredths of a second behind the draft's top outside linebacker prospect, Texas A&M's Von Miller, and the most-athletic outside linebacker prospect, Nevada's Dontay Moch. Of course, Houston outweighs Miller by 27 pounds and Moch by 25, so it's not like they bring Houston's physical presence.

"You've got to have a want-to to get to the ball," Houston said. "That's the main thing. The second thing, you've got to have a get-off. With that, you can be a great pass-rusher."

Houston acknowledges he's not a finished product, saying he needs to work on his hands on those occasions when his early speed meets a brick wall. That skill is a must for the Packers. Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene teaches power to speed, meaning everything starts with a bull rush. With Houston's strength, those power moves should come with the type of coaching that Greene provided to make solid players out of the likes of Erik Walden and Frank Zombo.

With his experience as a 3-4 outside linebacker, there's plenty of film for Greene, general manager Ted Thompson and the scouts to digest. Houston plays with a good motor and pursues hard from the back side but said he needs to get tougher on running plays directed at him and has struggled with misdirection.

Those things can be coached, though. What can't be coached is his combination of strength and speed. With 10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for losses and 44 quarterback pressures this past season, Houston elected to take his skills to the NFL a year early.

"I grew up in a struggle," he said, explaining his reasoning for declaring for the draft early and in explaining one of his passions. "I came from a big family. I know how it is to struggle financially. I would love to help kids do things they can't afford to."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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