Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard can’t believe his good fortune.
“I love it here,” the 6-0, 222-pound Howard said. “I can’t believe I’m actually getting paid to play the game I’ve been playing all my life. And I’m grateful for it.”
Though his excitement is understandable, Howard is more than just happy to be here. The fifth-round draft pick from Indiana knows he’s got a chance to play a key role in the Bears’ committee approach to the run game in the post-Matt Forte era. He knows he can play in the NFL.
“I’m definitely convinced,” Howard said. “I’ve come a long way, but there’s still a lot I need to work on. But I’m getting more comfortable with everything.”
With Jeremy Langford returning to practice Wednesday after missing two days with a leg injury he suffered against the Patriots last week, the Bears running game is taking shape heading into Saturday’s third preseason game, against the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field.
Langford is in line to be the starter and is coming off an impressive performance against the Patriots — eight carries for 55 yards and a touchdown, including a 34-yard run. Ka’Deem Carey adds a physical element to complement Langford’s speed. Veteran Jacquizz Rodgers is well-suited for the change-of-pace role. But it’s Howard who might have the most intrigue — and not just to fantasy players who envision Howard being effective near the goal line.
Howard has quickly shown signs that he might indeed be better than his fifth-round draft status, with a little more zu-zu to go with his powerful inside-run ability. “I didn’t realize he was that quick,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said earlier this month. “I’m excited about that.”
Howard is coming off an impressive performance himself against the Patriots in a second-half, third-string role: 11 carries for 46 yards (4.2 avg.), with runs of 10 and 11 yards and all but one carry for positive yardage. It’s difficult to say that’s an indication Howard is learning quickly. But he feels he is.
“The speed of the game and the size of the playbook and the information [was a challenge]. But I’ve got that under control now,” Howard said.
Howard’s power is easy to notice in Bears practices. He’s the running back most likely to drive the pile on a short-yardage run up the middle and score touchdowns from close range — a facet the Bears haven’t had through most of the Forte era. But he knows pass protection and special teams will be a key to getting on the field.
“It’s definitely harder to learn special teams than running back because I haven’t done it before,” Howard said. “Running back — I’ve played that all my life. I know [special teams is] something I have to do and I’m willing to do to be a part of this team. And I think I’m getting the hang of it.”
With Forte leading the pack last season, the Bears were sixth in the NFL in rushing attempts (469) — but 11th in yards (1,851), 20th in yards per attempt (3.9) and tied for 12th in touchdowns (13). Their long gain of 27 yards (by Forte, against the Cardinals in Week 2) was the lowest in the league.
On paper, this group hasn’t done much in the NFL. So from Langford down to Howard and roster-longshot Senorise Perry, the committee has a lot to prove.
“It’s going well,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “I lost Langford for a couple of days [after the Patriots game] and that kind of forced a couple of guys to the forefront and gave them more reps to show what they can do.
“’Quizz [Rodgers], he’s a consummate pro, always trying to do it the correct way. Ka’Deem has really made huge leaps the last two years, and you can tell he’s one of the leaders in that room and of the offense. Howard has followed along, picked it up as he goes. So with those four guys, you’ve got a lot of options.”