A primary, weight-bearing philosophical pillar of the John Fox Bears – running the football – has been conspicuous by its absence, which of course is everything Fox and the offense precisely did not want. The team is 0-3. The starting quarterback is out. The plan was running-back-by-committee and the intended top two members of the committee are down with injuries.
And now a lead role in changing all of that and becoming the spear point of the offense falls to a rookie who was passed over until the fifth round of the draft and has a total of 12 NFL carries and who was the only player other than the backup quarterback who was dressed but coaches didn’t play in the team’s first game.
Jordan Howard is fine with all of that. He has chips on his shoulder, the kind that players use as motivation, from getting only one scholarship offer coming out of high school to slipping in the draft.
Now, with Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford expected to miss the Detroit game, Howard is positioned to be the featured back of an NFL team. That would be what’s called a “dream.”
“Coming into the league you always want to be the featured guy, but I definitely wasn’t expecting this or expecting it to come this fast,” said Howard. “I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity, but I’m not going to let it slip through my hands, either. I’m going to make the most out of my opportunity.”
Bears rookie running backs have some recent history of being anything but overwhelmed by that first opportunity.
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In his first NFL start last season, Langford put up 182 combined run-receiving yards and scored twice.
Matt Forte rushed for 123 yards and caught passes for 18 more in his 2008 rookie start No. 1.
Anthony Thomas didn’t start til the Bears’ sixth game in 2001 but the rookie tailback responded with 127 yards on 27 carries.
Howard and the Bears would settle for any of those debuts. What Howard has done in recent weeks is focus on pass protection, typically the steepest learning curve for young backs coming from college careers where their running was the coin of the realm.
“He’s getting there,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “He’s getting closer. A lot of work in protections. In the NFL, it’s a little bit different than college football with all the different fronts and with all the different personnel packages. He’s working really hard to get caught up to speed with that, but he’s doing a nice job as a runner.”
Howard was billed as a power back when the Bears announced him as their fifth-round pick this spring. He is listed at 222 pounds but “he’s bigger than he looks,” said coach John Fox He’s a big body and has good feet, good vision, and those are pretty good qualities… .
“Every time he’s touched the ball, he’s been pretty impressive. Playing running back in the National Football League is a little bit more than just running the ball. Some of those things took a little longer to learn and to be able to execute consistently. I think he’s done that pretty well when we’ve called on him in the regular season.”
That will happen in earnest beginning around noon on Sunday.