Bears

Bears: Jordan Howard's first ever All-Star Game? The NFL Pro Bowl

Bears: Jordan Howard's first ever All-Star Game? The NFL Pro Bowl

Jordan Howard has made his first-ever selection to an all-star game of any kind something memorable, being selected on Wednesday to a spot in the Pro Bowl later this month in Orlando, the only Bear currently currently set to appear in the NFL's annual exhibition.

"I wasn't selected for the all-star game in my home state, so this is my first all-star game," Howard said Wednesday. "My hard work is paying off now, so I just appreciate that."

Howard, one of only five rookies (Barry Sanders, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott) in NFL history to average 5.0 yards on 250 or more rushing attempts, replaces Arizona running back David Johnson, a scratch because of a sprained left MCL suffered in the Cardinals' final game. Howard finished second to Elliott in rushing, and was third in Pro Bowl balloting behind Elliott and Johnson.

Not a bad season for a young player who didn't even crack his team's starting lineup until almost a fourth of the way through the season.

Because of the injury to Johnson, and Elliott possibly on track for a longer playoff run or for the Super Bowl with the Cowboys, Howard said he was not entirely surprised at his inclusion. Former running backs coach Stan Drayton, who left the Bears to become offensive coordinator for the University of Texas, set Howard's mind right.

"He was just telling me I had a chance to be one of the best running backs in this league for a long time," Howard said.

Howard, the Bears' pick in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, also becomes just the second Bear running back (Gale Sayers) to reach the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Howard set a franchise rookie record with 1,313 rushing yards in 15 games (13 starts) despite not moving into the starting lineup until Week 4 against Detroit after an ankle injury to Jeremy Langford. He still finished the season on the field for more than 68 percent of the Bears' total plays.

The rookie was active for the opener in Houston but was a DNP-CD. He then turned the slight into something positive.

"It was discouraging but it was also motivational," Howard said. "It was kind of tough but it motivated me to try to get on the field… .

After that first game I was just going to do my hardest to get on the field."

With 29 receptions for an additional 298 yards, Howard finished fifth in yards from scrimmage (1,611), and his yards per game (87.5) ranked third behind only Elliott (108.7) and Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell (105.7).

One quirk of 2016 was that Howard did not immediately flash during training camp or much beyond the final preseason game, at Cleveland. Like most rookie running backs, Howard struggled with pass protection and did not distinguish himself as a receiver. Consequently, coaches did not fully appreciate what they had until Howard broke a 36-yard run at Dallas in Week 3, in place of Langford.

"He's a much better player on Sunday than he is during the week just because his running style is different," said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. "Sometimes it's hard to see that. Where you can see other guys' quickness and stuff like that show up, you don't get to see the vision because it's not live.

"In Cleveland we saw a little glimpse of it in the preseason, but that was really it. I know Coach Fox talked early in the season, like, ‘Hey, I really like this guy.' Early in preseason he was high on him. We really didn't start getting him rolling until that fourth week of the season. All of the sudden you're like, ‘wow, this guy is a first- and second-down back; this guy is a good player, once the pads come on.'"

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

Mark Carman, Scott Merkin and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester looks to get back on track against the Pirates? Should he still be the Cubs Game 1 starter in the playoffs?  Len Kasper joins Kap to discuss.

 

How much will Mitch Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game? And will Carlos Rodon end up being the White Sox’ best starter?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Matt Nagy provided a defining quote for his offense when a reporter observed that Mitch Trubisky was continuing to take shots downfield instead of checking down during practice. 

“That's never going to stop,” Nagy said. “Not in this offense.”

For a team that had neither the personnel nor scheme to be successful on offense over the last few years, that one quote felt like a breath of fresh air. Not in this offense would the Bears be conservative, plodding and predictable. What’s never going to stop is the aggressive mentality Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have worked to instill in this group during the installation phase of preseason practices. 

“That’s our attitude every time we come out on the field, is to be aggressive, to go full speed and it’s to execute all our assignments,” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. 

Just because Trubisky has frequently hucked the ball downfield over the last few weeks of practice doesn’t mean this offense will go from one of the worst to one of the best in the NFL. There’s plenty of work still to be done, a large chunk of which falls on the shoulders of Trubisky. The coaching staff will begin paring things down next week, when a dress rehearsal of gameplanning begins leading up to Aug. 25’s meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

But while that week of gameplanning surely will lend itself to less reflexive aggression, that overall approach isn’t going away. Not when the Bears are confident in Trubisky and the multitude of weapons surrounding their franchise quarterback. In a more narrow scope, Nagy said Trubisky's arrow is pointing up after back-to-back days of quality practice against the Broncos here in Colorado. 

"It wasn't one good day, one bad day. It was two good days," Nagy said. "That's what his expectations are. That's what he knows that we want. He's done that and we're not gonna stop him." 

For some perspective, last year Trubisky only attempted 30 passes of 20 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, 41 percent of Trubisky’s attempted passes traveled 0-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; drilling down further, 21 percent of his attempts were 0-10 yards and over the middle, representing most frequent “zone” to which he threw the football. Not all of those were check-downs, of course, but plenty of them were. Only nine percent of Trubisky’s throws traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 

This was, of course, partly a personnel issue — Josh Bellamy was the most-targeted receiver on deep balls (eight), while guys like Dontrelle Inman (six), Kendall Wright (four), Deonte Thompson (three), Markus Wheaton (three) and Tre McBride (three) weren’t reliable downfield targets, either. But then again, Tarik Cohen was only targeted twice on deep balls — the first one, Cohen had a step on an Atlanta Falcons linebacker, but Mike Glennon’s pass was slightly under thrown an broken up in the end zone; the other was a 70-yard completion from Trubisky against the Carolina Panthers. 

The point being: Not only did the Bears lack the personnel to create mismatches and be aggressive, but the conservative nature of the offense meant there wasn’t much opportunity within it to do so, either. 

The Bears can be aggressive now in part because of the nature of the offense, and in part too because of the personnel they now have. If an opposing team wants to double anyone — Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cohen, etc. — that’ll open up a mismatch somewhere else on the field, which lends itself to aggressiveness. 

“The biggest thing I’ve learned about this offense (is), just, there’s a lot of answers,” Trubisky said. “We’re not always going to have the perfect play call for the perfect coverage or whatever. But there’s always somewhere to go with the ball, pass to run, run to pass, there’s a lot of kills, options — there’s a lot of things we can do.”

Said Burton, who’s put together a strong preseason to date: “That’s why (Ryan) Pace and Nagy brought all those guys here, to win the one-on-one matchups. I know we’re all looking forward to those whenever it’s our time, we gotta take advantage of it.” 

Exactly how aggressive the Bears’ offense will be will become apparent in the next week and a half. While the Bears will still hold some things back against Kansas City to keep them off tape, the overall tenor of the offense will be more readily apparent on Aug. 25 than in the team’s other preseason contests. 

And if all goes according to plan, not only will this offense be aggressive — it’ll be aesthetically pleasing to everyone watching, too. 

“We’re going to keep taking shots,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to keep being aggressive because it opens up everything else when you can hit those shots. The key is just to be consistent with them, hit them and then it really stretches the field and opens up the run game and opens up the intermediate throws as well. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive, which I love.”