Bears

Bears NFL Draft preview: Jordan Howard dials running back need way, way down

Bears NFL Draft preview: Jordan Howard dials running back need way, way down

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store. Third in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

Drafting running backs in three straight mid rounds gave the Bears Ka’Deem Carey, Jeremy Langford and finally Jordan Howard, who surprised coaches who admitted not fully knowing what they had and started Langford the first three games. Langford went down with a high-ankle injury against Dallas, Howard started and established himself as the featured back of the offense, with 1,313 rushing yards and a 5.2 ypc average, second in the NFL only to Ezekiel Elliott.

Langford, expected to be a speed upgrade from released veteran Matt Forte, failed to take a second-year step up, averaging just 3.2 yards on 62 carries with no run longer than 13 yards over his final nine games and 31 carries. Carey slid virtually out of the rotation and was deactivated for the final two games after getting no more than 2 carries in any of the previous seven games.

The addition of Benny Cunningham added firepower to the return game but also in the backfield. Cunningham has averaged more than 13 yards per pass reception in four seasons, plus 27 yards per kickoff return.

Pre-draft depth-chart’ing starters

RB: Jordan Howard
Third down: Benny Cunningham
Reserves: Bralon Addison, Ka’Deem Carey, David Cobb, Jeremy Langford

Bears draft priority: Low

Ryan Pace has added running backs on the third day of his first two Bears drafts and late-round upgrade from Carey and Langford who can contribute on special teams would interest him. Redrafting a position in multiple years is generally a course heading for problems elsewhere on the roster, so special teams would be a significant consideration even for a mid- or late-round pick.

If the Bears are satisfied that Langford is a viable backup for Howard, plus Cunningham, the Bears are well set at the position with youth as well as quality.

Keep an eye on ...

I'Tavius Mathers, RB, Middle Tennessee: Exploded as a senior with 1,5651 yards and 17 TD’s. Sat out ’15 after transferring from Mississippi.

Elijah McGuire, RB, La.-Lafayette: From the same program that gave the Bears CB Charles Tillman. Set back by a foot injury but showed receiving skills and was three-time 1,000-yard rusher.

Jamaal Williams, RB, Brigham Young: Ideal size (6-0, 212 pounds) and excellent production without top-end speed. Suspended for ’15 for rules violation but worked to finish his degree and return for strong ’16. “You have to abide by the rules,” Williams said. “I learned to be disciplined while I was [at BYU].”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.