Stan Drayton knows some things about running backs. At one time the all-time leading rusher in Division III history, Drayton also was assistant head coach and running backs coach under Urban Meyer at Ohio State, where he coached Carlos Hyde to 1,521 rushing yards in 2013, then followed with Ezekiel Elliott netting 1,878 the next year.
From there he went to become Bears running backs coach, where this year he had the lead role in guiding rookie Jordan Howard to a franchise-rookie-record 1,313 yards.
As good as Howard's season was – culminating with being named to the NFL Pro Bowl, replacing Arizona's David Johnson – it is only the beginning.
"He's nowhere near what he's going to be in this league," said Drayton, now associate head coach and run game coordinator with the University of Texas. "Nowhere."
Howard said Wednesday that Drayton had told him during this season that Howard has a chance to be one of the best backs in the league for a long time. The reasons are both physical and emotional, Drayton told CSNChicago.com.
Howard was a healthy scratch in the opener at Houston, the only player in uniform besides backup quarterback Brian Hoyer not to see a single snap in the game. Howard said it discouraged him at first, but also motivated him, and that was what Drayton saw.
"It was burning in him to play [at Houston]," Drayton said, "but he wasn't going to be disruptive. He just worked harder, and I think it all ultimately took its proper course."
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Drayton saw mindset from the beginning of their time. Howard, a fifth-round pick out of Indiana, was motivated by where he was finally drafted, but focused away from the disappointment.
"He just has that quiet confidence in himself," Drayton said. "From day one he just let down all of his guards and let himself be coached. He just had such a drive to get better, and there was no resistance at all."
Howard may not have elite pure speed. But he tied for third in runs of 20 yards or longer (10) and third in rushing first downs (70)
"He has the ability to get to the second level at full speed," Drayton said. "It's not about top-end speed with Jordan. He's a big back and he hits like a big back. He's perfect for that [Bears] zone-blocking scheme. He is decisive and has an amazing sense of timing.
"And he's going to just keep getting better."