The last — and lasting — image of Lamarr Houston’s first season with the Bears was one of ill-timed euphoria turned into agony.
His sack and unfortunate celebration late in a blowout loss against the New England Patriots resulted in a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and half a season lost.
It was a regrettable play that turned into a viral online clip for the Bears’ big-money free-agent signing of 2014. But it’s not the one that runs over and over in his head.
For Houston, it’s a clip from the movie “300” in which a young King Leonidas slays a giant black wolf and returns to Sparta a hero draped in its skin.
“The wolf is one of the most savage animals out there,” Houston said. “When I play, I hope I’m playing like a wolf, just hunting, devouring whatever I need to devour and bringing it back to the family.”
It’s a mentality Houston often shares on social media and one that he expressed in an interview Monday with the Sun-Times at a Highland Park restaurant.
Season 2 with the Bears will be different, he says with a fervor, the table shaking. He’ll play like a wolf, he promises.
“It’s like having pent-up aggression,” Houston said. “The opportunities are going to come this year to be able to showcase what I’m really capable of doing.”
First, Houston has to get healthy. It’s unlikely he’ll be on the field when voluntary minicamp opens April 28, but he’ll be part of all the meetings.
Houston’s focus is on his rehab process, and general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have expressed their full support.
“The ligament in my knee isn’t completely healed yet,” he said. “It takes six months. I’m only 22 weeks, so I’m almost six months for the ligaments to be completely healed.”
Houston typically spends his offseasons working out in Austin, Texas. But this year, his rehab work took him to New York, where Dr. Jonathan Glashow performed his surgery.
The last few months have featured two or three workouts a day in Manhattan at Sportslab NYC, where he has regained his form with the help of Dr. Keith Pyne and trainer Ben Velazquez. Bears trainer Chris Hanks’ plans have been beneficial, too.
Houston feels as if he never even had surgery.
“I feel great,” Houston said. “But you can feel as good as you want and be able to do a lot of things, but when it comes to doing certain things, you should just take your time and keep building your strength.”
Houston said the leaping sack dance that snapped his ACL was the result of frustration. He had had run-ins with fans on Twitter and had yet to come up with a sack despite providing consistent pressure.
“As soon as I was sitting there on the field, I laughed with the crowd,” Houston said. “I said, ‘Ha, yep, this is the kind of year that I’m having. Let’s laugh it off, let’s go.’
“When I found out that I was done, I immediately said I’m going to come back and I’m going to be the best player I can be next year. I have no doubt in my mind.
“If you’re playing the Bears next year, I would not want to be across from me. No mercy.”
New role ahead
Part of Houston’s frustration was attributable to his position. He was signed as an end but often played tackle.
There were reasons for it. For starters, the Bears simply weren’t deep up front. Houston, though, said there’s a misconception that he can be a full-time NFL defensive tackle. He only weighed 265 pounds last year despite being listed at 300.
“It just blows my mind,” he said.
In 2010, Houston proudly said he learned from playing behind ends Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly as the Oakland Raiders’ backup end and third tackle. That was his rookie season. In 2012 and 2013, Houston was primarily a 3-4 outside linebacker.
In Chicago, he was back to facing double teams. But Houston isn’t complaining. He was on board with everything former general manager Phil Emery and former coach Marc Trestman had planned for him.
“I’m a team guy,’’ he said. ‘‘If you want me to play D-tackle and we can win that way, then I’m going to go in there and bust my butt, and I’m going to play D-tackle. Do I feel like I could have done better elsewhere? Yes, I believe that.”
Houston accepted doing the dirty work as he was asked, but fans still sought sacks.
“It sucked because I was the new guy,” he said. “I got this big contract, and everybody was all excited, and they wanted to see me just get sacks. But, in reality, I was never in the position to do that.”
That will change this season. He believes in all the moves Pace and Fox have made, and he’s elated about playing for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whom he watched closely while in the Bay Area.
Houston said he plans to weigh between 270 and 275 pounds. It’s his understanding that outside linebacker will be his primary position. With his experience, he’s willing to help others out with their transitions.
“Now I have the opportunity to go back to strictly playing outside linebacker and rushing on the edge,” he said. “I don’t have to necessarily put last year behind me because when I start playing this year, it’s going to be gone.”
That means playing like a wolf.
“I’ve got a couple of names on my list,” Houston said. “There’s a couple of matchups, a couple of guys that I’m looking forward to putting my hand on their throats. I’m really excited about it.”