The Bears signed former Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston to a $35-million, five-year contract in March to help stir up a defense that was a disaster last season, and he's already making his presence felt.
During Tuesday's OTA (organized team activity) practice, Houston and tight end Martellus Bennett had to be separated during an 11-on-11 segment.
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OTA practices are conducted in shorts and helmets, without full contact. But that didn't prevent Tuesday's altercation, which ended with the theatrical Bennett yelling and slamming his helmet on the ground after he was led away from the fracas by right guard Kyle Long.
After declining to talk to reporters following practice, Bennett vented on Twitter, writing, "I go hard every (expletive) day. No doubt about that. Not a single ounce of (expletive) in me."
Not everyone would agree.
Houston took a more mature and professional tack.
"We're just competing," he said, calmly. "This is a competitive sport, and it's a competitive league, and that's the atmosphere coach (Marc) Trestman wants, and we're competing every day to get better, and sometimes people get heated. But all we're doing is competing out there."
Although Houston is considered one of the NFL's best run defenders at his position, he also has 10½ sacks over the past two seasons. At 6-feet-3 and 300 pounds, he has the anchor strength and versatility to shift inside to tackle in passing situations, giving the Bears much more sack potential than they possessed last year.
"Anything the Bears want me to do to be successful, I'm willing to do," the 26-year-old Houston said. "Whatever my job entails, that's what I'm going to do. It's not necessarily about scheme versatility; it's about helping the team win."
Aside from the money, the emotion displayed during an off-season practice without pads is part of what attracted Houston to the Bears. Mixing some talented defensive newcomers with standout veterans such as Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs to complement a state-of-the-art offense could be a potent combination.
"It's a group of passionate guys," Houston said off the field, after providing Exhibit A just a few minutes earlier on the field. "That's what they want, and in this environment of football at Halas Hall, I think that's something we can build off of."
When Houston moves inside in passing situations, the expectations are that his athleticism will be a mismatch for most guards.
"It creates a lot of mismatches for different teams," he said. "It creates a lot of versatility for our defensive coach thinking it's great if I can go inside and outside. Anything they want me to do to help us win I'm willing to do it."
The Bears should have the luxury of creating that mismatch inside while maintaining pressure from the ends because they also signed defensive ends Jared Allen and Willie Young in free agency. Allen has 100 sacks in the past seven seasons, and Young, who started 15 games for the Detroit Lions last season, has flashed the potential to develop into an effective pass rusher.
Having three starting-caliber defensive ends on the roster is a plus for the Bears, even if it creates a situation where some players may not get as much playing time as they'd like.
"It's not a problem," Houston said. "I think they got guys that are going to compete, and they want to create an atmosphere to be competitive. They're doing that out here, and everybody's competing and working, and everybody's trying to get the job."
Based on early returns, no one's competing harder than Houston.