There’s a lesson in the Justin Houston story for his former teammates who remain in Athens, and not just the one about getting caught one toke over the line.
Houston’s surprising slide to the third round of the NFL draft, after being considered a consensus second-round pick and some analysts even speculating he could go late first round, would have been a real shock had it not been for the FoxSports.com report this week that he had tested positive for marijuana at the February NFL combine in Indianapolis.
After all, in his junior year, playing outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme at UGA, Houston became a regular visitor to opposing teams’ backfield, racking up 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and 44 quarterback hurries, along with 38 solo tackles, 67 total tackles, forcing two fumbles, recovering a fumble for a touchdown and making an interception. He wound up all-SEC, made several All-America teams and was in the running for the Bednarik, Butkus and Nagurski awards. If he’d returned for his senior season, he probably would have been considered one of the nation’s premier defensive players.
All of that and only a third-round draft pick?
But while Houston seemed to be thinking of the failed drug test when he told reporters he attributed his drop in the draft to “some of the poor decisions I made,” there was another factor pointed out by ESPN analysts Todd McShay and Jon Gruden, who criticized Houston’s work ethic.
Both complained that, as Gruden said, Houston doesn’t “play hard all the time.” As McShay put it, “The problem is this guy doesn’t play every single down like it’s the last play of his career, which drives you crazy because he has so much potential.”
Actually, I’d heard UGA fans complain sporadically last season about Houston occasionally taking plays off — something that unfortunately has been a recurring problem for the Dogs over the past five years or so.
Perhaps it was the lack of conditioning that eventually resulted in an overhaul of Georgia’s strength program this offseason, but the Dogs have become known for sporadic effort. Even Knowshon Moreno, famed for popping up from a tackle and sprinting back to the huddle, seemed to take himself out of the game with alarming frequency during his time at UGA.
One encouraging sign for the coming season is that the Dogs have among them an example of the kind of player who draws comparisons with the legendary David Pollack, whose motor was never off. That player is Orson Charles, who’s even been known to take offseason early morning exercise with the ROTC cadets at UGA to improve his fitness and who Mark Richt praised recently as “the MVP of the entire spring.” Richt noted that, “Even wind sprints at the end of practice, he goes as hard as he can go. The last guy I can remember giving that kind of effort every play, every day was Pollack.”
So, sure, I hope current Georgia players take note of the fact that smoking an illegal substance can cost you professionally. But I think the greater lesson is that if you’re not playing every play like it could be your last (and ask Trinton Sturdivant, that’s a very real possibility), you’re not only likely to get beat, but someone at the next level is going to notice.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg