WESTFIELD, Ind. — You’re never too old to learn . . . something.
That’s even true for someone who has done so much.
“I was told you can learn something from a 2-year old baby, so always be humble and listen,’’ Justin Houston said. “You never know what you can learn, just always listen.’’
This from one of the Indianapolis Colts’ rare players. Houston is one of just six who are 30 or older. He’s entering his ninth season, and first in Indy after authoring a decorated career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The resume includes 78.5 sacks, tied for eighth-most among active players. And who can forget 2014 when Houston piled up 22 sacks, tied for the second-most in a single season?
General manager Chris Ballard envisioned Houston representing a relentless pass-rush presence in the Colts’ rising defense when he signed him to a two-year, $23 million free-agent contract during the offseason.
Houston never has viewed himself as a singular force. He’s looking to fit in, handle his responsibilities and learn.
“As long as I’m playing this game,’’ he said, “you can always get better.’’
That now includes going against left tackle Anthony Castonzo at training camp and getting hands-on work from pass-rush consultant Robert Mathis, the team’s career sack leader.
“I love going against Castonzo,’’ Houston said. “He helps me get better. I think he’s one of the best left tackles in the game, so any day I can compete against him . . . it’s going to better me.
“He’s been in the league for a while, and his technique is amazing. I love the way he works his hands. He’s constantly got me working because he never does the same thing over and over. It makes it hard for me to figure out what he’s doing.’’
Castonzo described the 6-3, 270-pound Houston as “just a physical freak. You need to stand next to him. That’s a big man. He’s got power.’’
Houston declined to share what he’s picked up from his one-on-one sessions with Mathis.
“I don’t want to tell my secrets because I don’t want y’all to put it out there,’’ he said. “But I’m definitely learning from Robert. He’s a great guy. He’s one of the best to ever play the game. I’m all ears when he’s talking.’’
Although Houston has been a Colt for barely four months, it’s clear he’s made a seamless transition.
Initially, he’s had to make the adjustment from stand-up, outside linebacker in Kansas City’s 3-4 scheme to an end with his hand on the ground in coordinator Matt Eberflus’ 4-3. Instead of reading and reacting as he primarily did in Kansas City, he’s attacking.
“This scheme is more so attacking,’’ Houston said. “I’ve just got to get used to attacking and not trying to read.’’
Houston has made a good first impression.
“The first thing I see when you mention his name is that ‘buy in,’’’ Eberflus said. “He’s buying in to the effort and the mentality, which our standards are set. So, that’s number one. And then the power. Those are the things that he brings to the table.”
“He could level rush and come back inside and use that extreme power and lean that he has. He’s done a nice job with that – the one-on-one periods as well as team periods. So he brings a lot of power, too.’’
One of the cornerstones of Eberflus’ defense is effort. Houston has noticed, and embraces it.
“To me that’s the way it should be no matter where you come from,’’ he said. “When I was in Kansas City, we practiced that, hustling to the ball. They may take it up a little notch (in Indy). If you want to be great, I love that.’’
Eberflus doesn’t play favorites when it comes to demanding hustle and effort. Doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie or a 30-year old Justin Houston, who’s been selected to four Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro in ’14.
“There’s no guy better than the next guy, I don’t care who he is,’’ Houston said. “If you’ve got that Colts helmet on, you’re coming to work.”
“If you’re on his side of the ball, he’s going to call you out if you’re lacking. Just be prepared to work, and I love that because it’s going to being the best out of you.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51
And be sure to catch the Colts Bluezone Podcast: