Bears

Bears in dire need of RB Jordan Howard delivering latest rookie first-start impact

Bears in dire need of RB Jordan Howard delivering latest rookie first-start impact

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.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

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.

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

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USA Today

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

Eddie Goldman is entering the final year of his contract this season and in order to cash in on a big payday, he'll need to stay healthy and make good on his top-tier potential. 

If he does, he'll become a very wealthy man and the Bears defense will have an even better year than its top-10 finish a season ago.

Goldman, 24, came to Chicago via the second round of the 2015 NFL draft and quickly became a household name among Bears fans. He started 12 games that season and finished with a surprising 4 1/2 sacks, a total that was more productive than his college scouting report predicted. He was pegged as a breakout star for 2016, but injuries ultimately derailed his second season. He played only six games that year (started five) but still flashed a surprisingly productive set of pass-rush traits; he finished 2016 with 2 1/2 sacks.

This past season represented something of a mixed bag for Goldman. He started 15 games and quieted some of the injury concerns that started bubbling around him, but his production dipped. He managed only 1 1/2 sacks. That said, he set a career-high with 27 tackles, nearly doubling his output as a rookie.

Still, Goldman wasn't a dominant force in 2017. He finished the year ranked 69th among interior defenders with a 76.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. Despite being healthy and available, it was the lowest season grade of his career from PFF.

Nose tackle is arguably the most critical position for any defense running a 3-4 scheme. It's no exception in Chicago. Goldman will set the table for linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith and the more bodies he can consume or attention he can draw from offensive lines, the more room second-level defenders will have to work. It's not just about filling up the stat sheet for Goldman. If he clogs running lanes and collapses the pocket consistently, he'll be worth every penny of a big contract extension despite lacking numbers.

The Bears need Goldman to bring his A-game in 2018, especially as a pass rusher. Chicago resides in arguably the most talented quarterback division in the NFL and for the defense to make those quarterbacks uncomfortable, Goldman has to apply pressure up the middle. He's proven he can do it, as evidenced by his rookie year production. But he's been on a steady decline in this area of his game since then and there's no room for more regression in 2018.

Players entering contract years tend to bring extra motivation to the field and there's no reason to expect anything less from Goldman. If he can combine his rookie year production with last season's availability, he could end up with the most well-rounded year of his career en route to leading the Bears' defensive line on a late-season playoff push.