Four hundred and ninety-nine days after he was drafted, Jeremy Langford will take the field as the Bears’ starting running back Sunday.
That very moment will be the first time it registers.
“Playing running back for the Bears, in general, is a big thing,” Langford said. “No, it hasn’t hit me yet. Seriously. I think in that first game, I’m going to run out the tunnel, in the real live action of the regular season, it’s going to hit me then.”
It will mark the official end of an era. For the first time since 2007, the Bears won’t rely on Matt Forte to carry their season.
For the first time in forever, the team won’t have a bell-cow back. In Chicago, under John Fox, the every-down rusher has gone the way of snapper Patrick Mannelly and kicker Robbie Gould, stalwarts at positions most of the league considers fungible.
“You want fresh guys out there …” Fox said. “Running back, historically has kind of been that way, at least over the last decade.”
Not in Chicago. Not until now.
Langford will be the face of the backfield, but he won’t be the only ball carrier. Ka’Deem Carey will spell him, and the Bears are becoming ever more intrigued with rookie Jordan Howard after he ran 16 times for 107 yards in the preseason finale.
No one will come near Forte’s super-human workload. Consider: in his eight seasons with the Bears, Forte touched the ball 2,522 times. That’s more touches than his three replacements have had since high school — combined.
When the team surprisingly cut Jacquizz Rodgers last week, Langford became the Bears’ oldest running back — at 24. Carey has played the most games — also 24.
“I think it’s good,” Carey said. “It’s up to us to set the culture now — how up-and-coming backs will set the tone.”
They learned that work ethic at Forte’s feet last year; Langford started twice when he was hurt.
“I wouldn’t say there’s pressure — it’s competition,” Langford said. “Competition brings the best out of everybody. It brings the best out of me, and the best of the other two guys behind me.
“I think that’s a good thing, especially in that aspect of the offense that we want to be.”
The Bears want to set a physical tone with their zone-blocking, one-cut rushing attack.
Under new coordinator Dowell Loggains, the Bears figure to run even more often than they did last year, when only five teams logged more than their 469 carries.
“I think we’re going to be physical,” Langford said. “And everything starts with our O-line.”
New signee Josh Sitton could form, with Kyle Long, the league’s best guard tandem. Right tackle Bobby Massie’s strength is run blocking, too, and that will only benefit the backs.
“We’re excited about the three guys we have,” Loggains said. “We have a good feel for what Jeremy is, we know Ka’Deem very well and it gave us confidence to see Howard play the way he did the last two weeks.”
Players themselves aren’t sure exactly how they’ll cycle into the game behind Langford. Fox, Loggains and running backs coach Stan Drayton will use the hot hand, but will also tailor their personnel to the types of plays in which each rusher excels.
Fox mastered how to platoon his “wave” of running backs with the Panthers and Broncos.
“I think a lot of times it has to do with just whether the player’s tired or not, whether it’s a long run or a long completion,” he said. “You know, maybe the guy’s carried it three times in a row.”
Forte would have never left the field.
Members of the Bears’ new wave will.
“We are all capable,” Langford said, “of being successful in this league.”
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