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A View From The Stands: Kansas City Chiefs LB Justin Houston

Justin Houston is one of the key players on the Chiefs defense. Kansas City needs him to take the next step and become a great compliment to Tamba Hali.

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In the second installment of my View From The Stands series, I'll be taking a look at Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston. The second-year man out of Georgia showed he can play in the NFL, registering 5.5 sacks as a rookie. Now, he'll have to prove his worth again with offenses gunning to slow him down.In 2011, Houston started slowly. His coverage of tight ends and running backs was in need of improvement along with his ability to get pressure on the quarterback. In fact, through the first 11 games Houston didn't have a sack. However, once he figured it out Houston became a force coming off the edge.

With elite size and quickness, Houston became a nice counterpart to Tamba Hali by the end of the year. He finished with just over a sack per game in his last five contests, highlighted by his three-sack performance against the Chicago Bears.

Going into 2012, Houston will be one of the main players to watch on Kansas City. If he can make the jump, the Chiefs will have dominant bookends on the outside. If not, it could be Hali against the world.

Negative: Many players suffer from the dreaded sophomore jinx. Teams are now very aware of Houston and will study him hard on tape to find weaknesses. If he struggles with a certain technique, opponents will be doing everything they can to put him in a situation that forces him to use it.

Another fair question going into the season is whether Houston can consistently be a factor. He was definitely very solid down the stretch in 2011, but can he do that for the entire year? That's something that still needs some answering.

Positive: Houston looked like he really "got it" in the latter stages of his rookie year. After having a very limited training camp thanks to the lockout, rookies were at a major disadvantage. It seemed that once Houston figured out how to attack the play, he really stepped up in all phases.

It was obvious that the 23-year-old became much better in space by November, showing his ability in both pass coverage and stuffing the run. There weren't many linebackers in the NFL that had better numbers when running plays went to his side than Houston in the second half of the year.

My Take: Houston is going to have a breakout season.

With someone like Hali to learn from and being coached by a defensive guru in Romeo Crennel, Houston will absorb an immense amount of knowledge in training camp.

At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, the linebacker has all the physical tools anyone could ask for. Between the size and speed he possesses, Houston should be a one-man wrecking crew once he puts everything together.

In the final analysis, it's tough to overlook the 5.5 sacks in his last five games. Furthermore, Houston was getting constant pressure on the quarterback even when he didn't bring him down. With Eric Berry back in the fold, Houston will have that extra split second to get in the backfield and finish the play.

The ex-Bulldog finished last season with 56 tackles and the aforementioned 5.5 sacks. I'm expecting him to finish with somewhere around 70 tackles and 10 sacks this year.

If Houston can take that leap from contributor to playmaker, Kansas City's defense will be fine shape come September.