The preseason finale is not prime duty in the NFL, but Lamarr Houston lives for every moment. So it was no surprise that Houston — a five-year NFL starter who led the Bears in sacks in 2015 — was the most noticeable defensive starter Thursday night against the Browns.
Showing the verve of a player just happy to be on the field after a second torn ACL ended his 2016 season — and one who might still need to convince the Bears he deserves a roster spot — Houston was active throughout his first-half stint. He had three tackles, including two stuffs. He added a quarterback pressure and induced a holding call that negated a Brown’s first-down play and led to a punt.
And, typical of Houston’s herky-jerky career with the Bears, it ended with a knee injury — though Houston was at least able to walk off without assistance when he fell to the ground midway through the third quarter. After a visit to the injury tent, Houston walked unassisted to the locker room. He did not return.
Until the injury, Houston was showing the Bears what they likely wanted to see — if they were looking for anything. The 6-3, 274-pound outside linebacker stopped running back Matthew Dayes for no gain in the first quarter and celebrated the moment as if it were a sack in the Super Bowl. On the next series, he stopped Dayes again for no gain and again punctuated the play with a celebration.
That’s Houston being Houston, of course. This is the same player who infamously suffered his first torn ACL celebrating an absolutely meaningless sack of Patriots back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter of a game the Bears were losing 48-23.
If the Bears were looking for Houston to show a spark in the final preseason game, they saw it. But it remains to be seen what it all means. Houston has been an enigma since former general manager Phil Emery signed him to a five-year, $35 million contract in 2014. He’s productive when healthy, but never really has justified the big contract he signed.
But it’s hard to tell where Houston stands. When the Bears are at full strength at outside linebacker, he’s pretty expendable — especially with a cap hit of nearly $7.0 million this season. But one key injury and suddenly he’s a proven pass rusher you need.
Unfortunately, you just never know what you’re going to get with Houston. His resilience and zest for the game are admirable. But he doesn’t seem to get the most out of it. Last week’s game against the Titans was a good example. Houston was called for three penalties — offsides twice and a neutral zone infraction, but also a sack, two pressures and a forced fumble the Bears recovered.
Thursday night was more of the same — a productive, active performance in a meaningless game, and an injury that leaves Houston’s status up in the air.
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