In a sense, Jordan Howard wasn’t surprised he was named to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday. The Bears’ star rookie running back figured the Cardinals’ David Johnson wouldn’t want to test the knee injury he suffered in Week 17, or that the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott or the Falcons’ Devonta Freeman would be rendered ineligible if their team reached the Super Bowl.
“I felt I was going to get in eventually and in some way,” he said after replacing Johnson on the roster.
On another level, though, he has to feel stunned. Howard said that he’s never played in an all-star game before — and wasn’t even selected to the Alabama showcase as a high schooler.
“After everything I’ve been through, not getting selected for the all-star game in high school, I just bursted off and just put my head down and kept working,” he said. “I guess my hard work is paying off now, so I’m just very grateful for that.”
His rise was unlikely. In college, Howard was forced to leave UAB for Indiana when the Blazers suspended their football program. He then decided to eschew common wisdom and turned pro after his junior year.
After the Bears drafted him in the fifth round, Howard didn’t play a single snap in Week 1. It was the first time since his freshman year in college he’d been a healthy scratch.
“It definitely motivated me to work hard so I would be able to get on the field,” he said.
When he did, he was the most sparkling — if not only — bright spot of a dark 3-13 season. In 15 games, Howard ran 252 times for a franchise rookie record 1,313 yards. He is the first Bears rookie running back since Gale Sayers to be selected to the all-star game, which kicks Jan. 29 in Orlando, Fla.
The Bears’ only representative hasn’t thought about which player’s brain he’ll pick there, but he knows the topic: “How they take care of their body and things like that, how they diet.” Howard, who received four or five massages per week, credits his physical upkeep as a reason for his success.
He’ll have a new boss when he tries to repeat it next year. The Bears are looking for a running backs coach after Stan Drayton left to become the associate head coach and run game coordinator at the University of Texas.
Howard wants someone like Drayton to take his place — “An upbeat guy who doesn’t let the moment get them rattled,” he said — after the position coach gave him some parting advice.
And a prediction.
“He was just telling me he thinks I have a chance to be one of the best backs in this league for a long time,” Howard said.