For running back Jeremy Langford, the differences between this year and his rookie season involve much more than him being first in line for all drills in practice.
Matt Forte’s departure left an undeniable void at Halas Hall. Langford is the leading candidate to replace Forte on the field, and he also needs to set an example off it.
It might be too much to ask from the soft-spoken Langford in his second season. But it’s what he wants because he wants to be the guy.
“This year, it’s really just [trying] to become more of a leader at the position, [especially] being a running back in Chicago,” Langford said this week during organized team activities.
“[It’s] being more of a leader and really just not being that secondary guy. [It’s] acting like more of a veteran and [knowing] the whole offense.”
More pressure accompanies the added responsibility.
“It’s a lot different,” Langford said. “It’s up to me, how I deal with it. Last year, it was more, ‘Let’s see what he can do,’ and now it’s, ‘We need you out there to make plays.’ ”
The Bears, who tried to sign Broncos veteran running back C.J. Anderson this offseason, are eager to challenge Langford, too.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and running backs coach Stan Drayton each said that Langford needs to improve as a receiver even though he started as one at Michigan State.
“There’s so much that he needs to continue to work on to be that type of player that he’s capable of becoming,” Drayton said. “He’s all about business, but he knows he has a long way to go.”
Last season tested Langford’s resilience. As well as he played in totaling 816 yards and scoring seven touchdowns, his dropped passes stuck with him far too long.
Langford knows he needs to be able to shrug off mistakes after they happen. It’s essential if he’s going to become a true No. 1 back.
“Yeah, it did [bother me], especially being a young player and the opportunities are limited out there,” he said. “I let it slip through my hands a lot.
“This year, I came in the offseason and worked out on my routes and worked on catching the ball and making those hard catches. That’s what we’re going to need to win some games.”
Some help for Langford is needed, too. A competition is going on behind him, with rookie Jordan Howard, Jacquizz Rodgers and Ka’Deem Carey having different strengths.
As coach John Fox indicated earlier this month, one back figures to get more action than the rest, similar to Langford’s role behind Forte last season. Forte was on for 55.1 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps to 36.3 percent for Langford. Carey was third at 7.2 percent.
The Bears haven’t stopped raving about Howard, viewing the fifth-round pick’s power as the perfect complement to Langford’s speed.
“Competition is always a good thing,” Langford said when asked about Howard. “Playing in the NFL, there’s always going to be competition, so you can’t really become too complacent as a player.”
Consider it one of the many things Langford learned from Forte in their season together.
“[Langford] knows he has to continue to mature in this game,” Drayton said. “If he takes anything from Matt Forte, that’s what it is: be a mature professional, take care of your body, understand the big picture of what this business is all about, grow with the business and play your part and do it extremely well.
“I know that’s what he took from Matt Forte. Now I see him giving it to [Howard], and I see him give it to other people. He absolutely embraced that. He’s going to be a leader in time, but he’s still has a lot to learn.”