When the Bears decided to move on from veteran running back Matt Forte this past offseason, it opened the door for one of the young running backs in their stable to take the reins of the backfield and run away with the job.
Those reins appeared to have Jeremy Langford's name on them, but when he suffered an ankle injury against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3, and with backup running back Ka'Deem Carey dealing with a hamstring injury, the door swung open for rookie running back Jordan Howard to show the Bears coaching staff what he could do in an expanded role.
Howard didn't disappoint.
Making his first career NFL start, Howard looked every bit the part of a bell cow running back. He carried the ball 23 times for 111 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and hauled in three catches for 21 yards in the Bears' 17-14 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon.
Howard became the first Bears running back to reach 100 yards on the ground since Forte accomplished the task in Week 1 of 2015 against the Green Bay Packers.
"I always knew that I might not be the fastest but I can get the job done," Howard said. "I've always believed in myself because if you don't believe in yourself nobody else will. You have to have self confidence. You have to be a determined runner. Not let the first person tackle you. You have to just keep moving your legs.
"I wasn't expecting the 100 yards but that made it even better. Just getting a win, I'm very excited about that."
Coming out of Indiana University, where he became the 150th player selected and 10th running back to go off the board in the 2016 NFL Draft, Howard was billed as a physical runner who didn't go down on first contact and had the ability to drive through would-be tacklers and fall forward for extra yards.
Howard's scouting report rang true against the Lions, as he wore down their defense by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. Howard notched an impressive 68 yards after first contact, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
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Bears veteran wide receiver Eddie Royal wasn't surprised to see Howard's running style take a toll on Detroit's defense.
"I saw it in training camp. I'm like, 'This kid is going to be a great player for us,'" Royal said. "His physical nature of running the ball, defenses are going to get tired of tackling him and he just gets those extra yards for us, and he did a great job."
One member of the Bears who spent time blocking for Howard shared the same sentiment.
"He ran so well today," Bears tight end Zach Miller said. "The thing about him is the yards through contact. He keeps his feet turning and he's always falling forward, gaining extra yards. All those things matter so I'm happy for him to get over 100 in his first extended [action]."
Bears head coach John Fox has a history of deploying the running back-by-committee approach throughout his career. He did it Carolina with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and he used the same tendencies in Denver with the likes of Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson.
Fox also showed signs of taking that same approach in his first season with the Bears in 2015 with Forte, Langford and Carey. While it's not out of the question that Fox will go back to that game plan when the Bears have three healthy running backs, it's no secret he has faith in the rookie as evidenced by Howard's 23 carries compared to Joique Bell's three rushing attempts and third-stringer Raheem Mostert's goose egg.
"Obviously, he has a positive impact," Fox said. "We noticed pretty early on. Jordan is a big back and we knew that when he came out of Indiana University. The thing we didn't know is the quickness of his feet and the vision he has. I think he's outstanding and we will ride him pretty good going forward."
Howard's expanded role in the Bears offense is expected to continue next week when he draws the start at Lucas Oil Stadium — an hour drive from where he starred at Indiana — against the Indianapolis Colts. Don't expect him to shy away from the big stage.
"I don't feel like the moment is too big for me," Howard said. "I'm just grateful for the opportunity God blessed me with, and the Bears for choosing me and giving me the opportunity to play."