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Notes: How James Houston went from nearly quitting the NFL to rookie sensation

The second-year edge rusher is eager to prove 2022 was no fluke.

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

This week, Tyler Dunne at Go Long posted a terrific article about 2022’s late-season sensation James Houston. Titled “The Problem is the Future,” Dunne’s article is the leadoff for Go Long’s 2023 NFL Kickoff features. In it, the writer delves into Houston’s past in the college ranks to help the reader make sense of both his unusual approach to pass rushing and unyielding desire to succeed.

Solidly researched and written, Dunne recaps episodes in Houston’s time at Florida and Jackson State that fueled the fire leading up to an incredible rookie campaign. We all know the knock against Houston was that he’s short for a pass rusher, but the stories in Dunne’s article about the abuse and disrespect under Dan Mullen’s strict regime at Florida sound Matt Patricia-like. While the public relations problems and recruiting violations are pretty well known, hearing Houston describe the “strong-willed” ways Mullen’s staff handled their players is wild. Specifically, Houston’s side of the story about what went down with the 2020 Cotton Bowl and the particular way he had the rug pulled out from under him as a player looking to contribute to his team for a huge game is fascinating.

The other part of the article that stood out to me was in some ways just as much about offensive tackle Taylor Decker as it was about James Houston. Remembering back to Houston’s tremendous debut, Decker was one of the players who was quoted at the time as being completely unsurprised by The Problem’s immediate impact. From Dunne’s article, we find out why that was the case. Going up against Decker in practice involved an unusual mentorship across the trenches:

If a specific rush didn’t work, Houston would ask Decker what he’d absolutely not want a pass rusher to do in that situation. Where he was exposed. Decker, an open book, would say he’s susceptible to an inside move.

To which, Houston perfected an inside rush.

So went this song and dance. Each practice.

Houston was working the problem of figuring out how to be a different kind of pass rusher that could exploit his odd blend of physical traits (short stature but freakishly long arms, incredible quickness) dissimilar to the NFL prototype. An incredibly clever guy, the rookie was thinking through his arsenal of moves in an unorthodox way; he was learning through the eyes of a great veteran tackle trying to stop him. Some of this was described in a paywalled article on the Detroit Free Press back in December, but it’s a great story non-subscribers should hear (read?) too.

Head on over to Go Long to read Tyler Dunne’s entire feature on James Houston titled “The Problem is the Future,” which is well worth reading in its entirety. Now, on to the rest of your weekend Notes:

  • According to team reporter Dannie Rogers, it was “fam day” at training camp on Friday:

  • Some of the players from Crystal Palace Football Club stopped by Allen Park on Friday:

  • MMQB’s Albert Breer wants you to know that the guy Erik Schlitt has been telling everybody to watch since May should be taken seriously as a “camp darkhorse.”

  • Checking in on former Lions first-round pick Jeff Okudah, now with the Falcons. The receiver he is facing is 6-foot-4 Mack Hollins, formerly of the Eagles and Raiders:

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