ST. JOSEPH, Missouri — The massive linebacker with the sweat-drenched biceps insists he never took a day off this offseason, even if he never showed up for one of the Kansas City Chiefs' workouts.
Early in training camp, it's easy to believe him.
With his familiar No. 50 stretched across his broad shoulders, Justin Houston has wasted no time in terrorizing quarterbacks again — even if they happened to be his own teammates. While the Chiefs worked out in only shells during the first couple of days, and hitting the QB is always taboo this time of year, more than once Houston could have easily leveled the boom.
"I just made sure about being busy at all times," said Houston, who often posted videos of his offseason workouts on social media while his representatives worked on a long-term contract.
The deal was consummated just over a week ago, a six-year, $101 million pact.
"I knew the guys here were working, and I knew the strength coaches were going to have these guys in shape," Houston explained, "so I didn't want to show up out of shape. Whenever I got that call, I wanted to make sure I was ready."
The Chiefs will certainly be counting on him.
After piling up a franchise-record 22 sacks a year ago, Houston will have to anchor a defense that is already without two starters for Week 1, and that is getting older by the day.
Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, so critical in tying up offensive linemen and giving Houston a clear path to the quarterback, will miss all of training camp and likely part of the season after surgery for a herniated disc. Poe is on campus at Missouri Western, but the 350-pounder is nowhere close to being ready to step onto the practice field.
Then there's cornerback Sean Smith, who's suspended the first three games of the regular season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. It was Smith's ability to lock down the opponent's top wide receiver that often gave Houston time to get to the quarterback.
"Instantly, it's kind of like a bulls-eye on your head," said fellow linebacker Tamba Hali, who was in a similar situation when he signed a big contract a few years ago. "Everybody is going to scrutinize everything you do. Twenty-two sacks? People think that's easy to do, so if he even gets 12 or 14 sacks, people are going to scrutinize. But that's hard to do."
Houston insists he can handle the weight of his massive contract, just as easily as he pushes up the countless plates he puts on the bench-press bar. It doesn't matter that he will be double-teamed all season, or that the focus of opposing defenses will be squarely on him.
"I'm going to continue to do what I do," he said. "Be ready for every game, continue to stay focused and continue to work like I've been working. Nothing changes."
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt certainly hopes that's the case.
After all, he opened his checkbook to write the largest check in franchise history, one that will pay the 26-year-old Houston $52.5 million in guarantees. It is the second-richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history, trailing only the $114 million, six-year deal Ndamukong Suh landed from the Miami Dolphins this past offseason.
"That's part of today's NFL," Hunt said. "Just is a great player. He's a great leader, he's great in the community. He's the type of player we want associated with the Chiefs for the bulk of his career. We always want to reward players we draft, that have grown up in our system."
Hunt said he wasn't in touch with general manager John Dorsey on a day-by-day basis, but the value of the contract naturally kept him in tune to negotiations.
Nor was Hunt worried about giving the deal to Houston, who fell from a potential first-round pick to the third round after testing positive for marijuana at the scouting combine. In the years since he was draft, Houston has proven to be the consummate professional.
"He's turned into a great player," Hunt said, "and a great leader."
NOTES: It was Alumni Day at training camp. Among those on hand were former GM Carl Peterson, seven-time Pro Bowl OL Ed Budde and two-time Pro Bowl DT Bill Maas. ... WR Albert Wilson had the highlight of the day, torching CB Sean Smith for a long touchdown catch. Smith promptly dropped down and did pushups as punishment for getting beat.