Lamarr Houston patiently, and eagerly, working to earn more playing time

Bears OLB Lamarr Houston "waiting on Coach Fox'' in push to prove his worth.

Lamarr Houston is happy three games into his second season with the Bears, and for good reason.

His surgically repaired right knee has healed properly so he can focus solely on football. That's a big reason coach John Fox's staff has increased his playing time at outside linebacker in each game.

But when Houston speaks, there's an unmistakable sense his happiness doesn't equate to fulfillment. For a passionate player to whom the Bears guaranteed $15 million in a free-agent contract just 17 months ago, coming off the bench in the new defense is a challenge.

"I've put in a lot of work," Houston said, "and I've had the coaches and everybody support me."

So is it just a matter of time before he's the disruptive edge presence the previous Bears regime envisioned?

"I'm just waiting on Coach Fox and just dealing with the day to day," he said.

That test of Houston's patience intensifies this week after the trade of outside linebacker Jared Allen to the Panthers. It eased the numbers crunch the Bears had at the position — but that doesn't guarantee Houston a spot opposite Pernell McPhee. In fact, far from it.

Veteran Sam Acho will get a "good bit" of playing time in the base defense, coordinator Vic Fangio said Wednesday. And the coaching staff has mentioned Willie Young repeatedly as a beneficiary of Allen's departure.

In the big picture, the club is set on evaluating all three over the final 13 games. A dominant 3-4 defense relies on dynamic outside linebackers, and the Bears need to see whether such a player is on their roster.

Houston is an intriguing candidate because he played from a two-point stance on the outside at times with the Raiders, and his ability to set the edge in run defense helped attract good money on the free-agent market two offseasons ago.

But former general manager Phil Emery signed Houston as a 4-3 defensive end. When Fox was asked Wednesday for his assessment of Houston, he noted how his recovery from knee surgery limited his preseason practice time. But he acknowledged trading Allen "opens the door a little bit" for Houston to play more.

The position is in a state of flux, obviously.

"We had a pretty good player in street clothes Sunday in Willie Young," Fox said. "So I think they're making the transition to outside linebacker in the 3-4. We need to take a look at them (all), and we will."

While Young was inactive, Houston played 24 snaps against the Seahawks and hit quarterback Russell Wilson on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter. Earlier in that series, he covered tight end Jimmy Graham on pass route downfield.

"People forget he's coming off an ACL, and it takes time with those," Fangio said. "Sometimes it takes more than a year to get it back right, and he's learning a new position. It's just going to take time, but I believe it will come for him."

It already has to some extent. Houston is experiencing the expected progression recovering from the injury, which he suffered during a sack celebration last October, and in learning his new position.

"When you reactions become second nature instead of trying to force them, you're in a comfortable position," he said.

That's a criteria the team will use, as well, in its evaluation. When he's on the field, that is.

rcampbell@tribpub.com

Twitter @Rich_Campbell

Copyright © 2018, CT Now
37°