Jordan Howard is learning how to study.
The running back writes the Bears’ plays into a notebook the day they’re installed during practice. He underlines the pass routes he has trouble remembering and color-codes the plays with highlighters.
Pass plays are blue and run plays are orange — Bears colors — while he highlights pass protections with a green pen.
“I need to see it,” he said.
His new coaches and teammates have helped Howard improve his note-taking — they tell him to keep his pages uncluttered — in hopes the rookie masters the Bears playbook. The team’s iPad system has helped him study on the go, too, but nothing can replicate field work.
“It definitely helps me getting out here and getting the reps,” he said Thursday after the Bears’ final mandatory minicamp practice at Halas Hall. “Because it’s one thing to see it, and another thing to do it.”
A hamstring injury limited the Indiana alum during organized team activities, but he was able to play at full strength last week. Still, coach John Fox doesn’t think he’ll see what Howard brings to the team until July.
“He appears to be the kind of guy who maybe will excel a little more when we’re in pads,” he said. “Not in underwear.”
That’s because the Bears envision Howard as a short-yardage bruiser — “Which makes him different than everybody else in that room,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said — at least at first. The workload given the fifth-round pick will be largely dependent on how Howard transitions to an offense very different than his up-tempo Hoosiers attack.
Then there’s the challenge of playing time; Howard hasn’t sat the bench since the first game of career at UAB, where he played until the Blazers announced plans to shelve their program. In a Week 2 blowout at the hands of LSU, the freshman entered the game and ran 14 times for 60 yards. He never looked back.
“I definitely want to play my rookie year,” he said. “I never sat out, anytime I played. I left college, where I’m playing every game and playing almost every snap. I just want to get out there on the field.”
After not drafting a running back from 2009 to 2014, the Bears have now selected one in each of the past three years. Jeremy Langford, a fourth-rounder in 2015, is the favorite to lead the team in touches but won’t be considered well-rounded unless he can fix his pass-catching struggles. Ka’Deem Carey, a 2014 fourth-rounder, has never carried the ball more than 14 times in a single game.
So where does that leave Howard in the Bears’ three-headed backfield?
The 6-1, 230-pounder has been a bell-cow before — he had more than 30 carries in eight games over the past two seasons — but still missed 18 quarters last year alone due to injury.
He’s willing to play special teams — fellow running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Senorise Perry specialize in that role — but the Bears didn’t draft him to chase kick returners.
While Howard claims he could be “cut in training camp” if he doesn’t perform, the Bears would be thrilled if he established himself in their rotation starting with Game 1.
“I can be a short-yardage back,” said Howard, who had 11 catches, mostly on screens, last year. “I can be an every-down back. I can be whatever they need me to be.”
Howard will spend his break outside Miami training with noted speed coach Pete Bommarito, but knows his training camp challenge is more mental than physical.
You can write that down in pen — and highlight it.
“That’s the most important: coming into camp in shape, but knowing the playbook,” he said. “If you don’t know the playbook you’re going to fall behind — and they’re not going to wait on you.”