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Bears position breakdown: The running backs

Jordan Howard will be the top RB in Chicago again next season. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Second in a position-by-position series of training-camp capsules on every player on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The Bears open training camp on July 20 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

No. 24 Jordan Howard

Running back | Third season

6-1, 222 pounds


Acquired: Fifth-round draft pick (150th overall) in 2016.

Age: 23

NFL experience: 31 games (29 starts) in two seasons with the Bears.

Background: Pegged as an under-drafted player when the Bears took him in the fifth round out of Indiana, Howard was a revelation as a rookie, rushing for 1,313 yards (5.2 average) and six touchdowns even though he didn’t start until Week 4. Not quite as productive in the Bears’ 30th-ranked offense in 2017, he still rushed for 1,122 yards (4.1 avg.) with nine touchdowns.

Notable: Howard had five games of 100 or more yards — only the Rams’ Todd Gurley and the Chiefs Kareem Hunt had more (six). Howard averaged 97.3 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry when he had 15 or more carries. He also led the NFL in overtime rushing last year — eight carries for 102 yards and a touchdown.

The skinny: Howard might be the Bears’ most proven offensive commodity, but he’s a bit of an X-factor in Nagy’s offense. It remains to be seen how many carries he’ll get per game in a diversified and if he can improve his pass-catching enough for Nagy to get the most out of him.

No. 26 Benny Cunningham

Running back | Sixth year

5-10, 218 pounds

Middle Tennessee State

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 28

NFL experience: 71 games (three starts) in five seasons with the Rams and Bears.

Background: Signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2013, Cunningham was mostly effective as a kickoff returner in four seasons with the Rams — was third in the NFL in 2016 (27.2, long of 61 yards); fourth in 2015 (28.6, 102) and fifth in 2014 (27.5, 75). He was not as productive with the Bears last year (7-147 with a long of 28 yards). He had just nine carries for 29 yards but 20 receptions for 240 yards and two touchdowns last season — including a 38-yard touchdown from Pat O’Donnell on a fake punt vs. the Vikings.

Notable: Cunningham has more yards as a pass receiver (992 on 113 receptions) than as a running back (777 yards on 180 carries) in his NFL career.

The skinny: The Bears re-signed Cunningham to a $1.05 million contract because his versatility is a good fit for Nagy’s offense and his leadership and professionalism is valued on a team that is developing on and off the field.

No. 29 Tarik Cohen

Running back | Second year

5-6, 179 pounds

North Carolina A&T

Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick (119th overall) in 2017.

Age: 23

NFL experience: 16 games (four starts) in one season.

Background: A prolific rusher at FCS North Carolina A&T — 5,619 yards, 56 touchdowns, 122 yards per game in four seasons — Cohen was an immediate hit as an exciting gadget player as a rookie. He rushed for 370 yards (4.3 avg.) and two touchdowns and had 353 yards receiving (6.7 avg.) and one touchdown. He had a 46-yard rush in the opener, a 70-yard reception, a memorable 61-yard punt return for a touchdown and threw a 21-yard touchdown pass.

Notable: Cohen made key contributions in four of the Bears’ five victories — a 36-yard run in overtime vs. the Steelers; the touchdown pass to Zach Miller vs. the Ravens; the 70-yard reception vs. the Panthers; and 80 rushing yards on 12 carries vs. the Bengals.

The skinny: After quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Cohen is the Bears’ most intriguing offensive player in a scheme that has been upgraded on several fronts. If the offense sparks earlier than expected, Cohen figures to be a key component.

No. 46 Michael Burton

Fullback | Fourth season

6-0, 240 pounds


Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 26

NFL experience: 47 games (10 starts) in three seasons with the Lions and Bears.

Background: Made an impact as a blocking back and special-teams player as a rookie with the Lions in 2015, when he started seven games. His role diminished in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense and he was cut after the 2016 season. Burton found a niche as blocking fullback (180 snaps) and on special teams (125) with the Bears in 2017.

Notable: Burton had just four carries for nine yards last season and two receptions for eight yards. He has just 11 carries in three NFL seasons.

The skinny: Burton might seem like a spare part and could get lost in the shuffle, but he figures to have a role in Nagy’s offense. Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman played 181 snaps in Andy Reid’s offense last year. If the Bears decide to keep a true fullback — no sure thing with several blocking tight ends on the roster — Burton likely will have a bigger role on special teams. One of Mitch Trubisky’s closest friends, he’s another good guy to have around.

No. 33 Taquan Mizzell

Running back | Second season

5-10, 185 pounds


Acquired: Claimed on waivers after being cut by the Ravens prior to Week 1 in 2017.

Age: 24

NFL experience: Four games (no starts) in one season with the Bears.

Background: Signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Mizzell led the team in rushing (40-126, 3.2, 0 TDs) and receiving (12-90, 7.5, 1 TD) in the preseason but was waived in the final cutdown, but the Bears signed him (and cut Jeremy Langford to create roster space) before Mizzell could go to the Ravens’ practice squad. He was active in five games last year, appearing in four with two offensive snaps and no touches.

Notable: Mizzell caught 195 passes for 1,560 yards and seven touchdowns at Virginia — including at least one reception in 45 consecutive games after his collegiate debut. His 195 receptions are the most for a running back in ACC history.

The Skinny: The Bears liked Mizzell enough to keep him on the roster all of last season and he has made a good impression with the new coaching staff with his smarts, instincts and work ethic. Can’t be counted out as a depth running back with some zu-zu.

No. 35 Ryan Nall

Running back | First season

6-2, 232 pounds

Oregon State

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: A converted H-back/tight end as a freshman, Nall rushed for 2,216 yards (5.8 avg.) and 24 touchdowns and added 563 receiving yards (10.1 avg.) and four touchdowns in three seasons at Oregon State. Scored 15 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016. Rushed for 810 yards (4.9 avg.) and eight touchdowns on a 1-11 Oregon State team in 2017. Declared for the draft with a year of eligibility remaining.

Notable: In Oregon State’s 2016 finale, Nall rushed for 155 yards on 31 carries and scored four touchdowns to spark a 34-24 victory over Oregon that ended an eight-game losing streak to the state-rival Ducks and marked the end of Mark Helfrich’s tenure at Oregon. Helfrich is now the Bears’ offensive coordinator.

The Skinny: Though he has potential as a blocking back/H-back, Nall, who showed breakaway speed at Oregon State, is insistent on playing running back in the NFL and signed with the Bears in part because they would give him that opportunity. Still, he’ll have to be a special-teams contributor to stick — even on the practice squad.