Bears

Bears will ride Jordan Howard going forward after impressive first start

Bears will ride Jordan Howard going forward after impressive first start

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.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

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."

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via ChicagoBears.com. "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”