Ka'Deem Carey

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the running backs

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the running backs

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each Bears position group heading to Bourbonnais. Today’s group: the running backs.

1. Can Jordan Howard get to the Starting Gate healthy?

By now, there’s no question the franchise’s all-time leading rookie rusher can do it. And after the fifth-rounder answered some durability questions last season, the last thing the Bears need is Howard to be banged-up or unavailable heading into a brutal first month of the season. If the Bears are to compete against the likes of the Falcons, Buccaneers, Steelers and Packers, they’ll need their ball-control game to be effective behind the league’s second-leading rusher last season. The humble star spent the offseason trying to get even better, from eye surgery, to finding ways to get through the second level and outrun defenders.

“Just improving on the little things, my conditioning, my weight, catching passes,” Howard said at last month’s minicamp. “And looking for ways to finish runs better. I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up.”

2. Spark from Sparty

Jeremy Langford entered last season as the starter following an impressive rookie season of his own, looking like the heir to Matt Forte as he split time with the veteran. But after 28 carries the first two games, the Michigan State product injured an ankle in Week 3 at Dallas after gaining 31 yards on only three carries. He was never the same once he came back, totaling just 31 carries for 84 yards. He remained out of team work during minicamp last month, working out individually on the side in an effort to be full-go for Bourbonnais. Howard took the ball and ran with his opportunity once Langford went down. But it’s not reasonable for him to carry the entire workload once the season begins, unless Dowell Loggains is asking for trouble. Langford returning to his rookie form will help.

3. The 3 C’s

That’s Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Ka'Deem Carey. Carey heads into his fourth season, having bought into special teams roles and being fearless charging into opposing defenders, even pancaking a few in his time here. But unless he finds a way to make himself a core performer on Teams, or if Howard, Langford, Cohen, or Cunningham suffers an injury, one doubts the Bears would enter the season with five running backs, especially if they decide to keep a fullback around. Cohen provides his unique skillset as the “human joystick” third down threat and potential as a returner. The latter is what Cunningham’s built his career upon, and has a similar build as Carey.

“I think it’ll play a key role and benefit me,” the 5-foot-6, 179-pound Cohen said of his stature and waterbug-like moves being a part of the offense. “The linemen are going to be bigger and it’ll be really hard for defenders to see behind my linemen. I didn’t necessarily want to be bigger (growing up), but I wanted to beat the bigger kids.”

Bears NFL Draft preview: Jordan Howard dials running back need way, way down

Bears NFL Draft preview: Jordan Howard dials running back need way, way down

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store. Third in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

Drafting running backs in three straight mid rounds gave the Bears Ka’Deem Carey, Jeremy Langford and finally Jordan Howard, who surprised coaches who admitted not fully knowing what they had and started Langford the first three games. Langford went down with a high-ankle injury against Dallas, Howard started and established himself as the featured back of the offense, with 1,313 rushing yards and a 5.2 ypc average, second in the NFL only to Ezekiel Elliott.

Langford, expected to be a speed upgrade from released veteran Matt Forte, failed to take a second-year step up, averaging just 3.2 yards on 62 carries with no run longer than 13 yards over his final nine games and 31 carries. Carey slid virtually out of the rotation and was deactivated for the final two games after getting no more than 2 carries in any of the previous seven games.

The addition of Benny Cunningham added firepower to the return game but also in the backfield. Cunningham has averaged more than 13 yards per pass reception in four seasons, plus 27 yards per kickoff return.

Pre-draft depth-chart’ing starters

RB: Jordan Howard
Third down: Benny Cunningham
Reserves: Bralon Addison, Ka’Deem Carey, David Cobb, Jeremy Langford

Bears draft priority: Low

Ryan Pace has added running backs on the third day of his first two Bears drafts and late-round upgrade from Carey and Langford who can contribute on special teams would interest him. Redrafting a position in multiple years is generally a course heading for problems elsewhere on the roster, so special teams would be a significant consideration even for a mid- or late-round pick.

If the Bears are satisfied that Langford is a viable backup for Howard, plus Cunningham, the Bears are well set at the position with youth as well as quality.

Keep an eye on ...

I'Tavius Mathers, RB, Middle Tennessee: Exploded as a senior with 1,5651 yards and 17 TD’s. Sat out ’15 after transferring from Mississippi.

Elijah McGuire, RB, La.-Lafayette: From the same program that gave the Bears CB Charles Tillman. Set back by a foot injury but showed receiving skills and was three-time 1,000-yard rusher.

Jamaal Williams, RB, Brigham Young: Ideal size (6-0, 212 pounds) and excellent production without top-end speed. Suspended for ’15 for rules violation but worked to finish his degree and return for strong ’16. “You have to abide by the rules,” Williams said. “I learned to be disciplined while I was [at BYU].”

Watch the 'C' go flying off Ka'Deem Carey's helmet during Bears-Packers game

Watch the 'C' go flying off Ka'Deem Carey's helmet during Bears-Packers game

Ka'Deem Carey got hit so hard his logo came off.

It's true. Packers linebacker Joe Thomas smacked into a blocking Carey during the first half of Sunday's game between the Bears and Packers at Soldier Field. The two helmets collided, and Thomas hit Carey in just the right way that the Bears "C" logo got peeled off Carey's helmet and went flying.

Take a look:

Packers linebacker Jake Ryan's helmet also took a toll, losing a layer of coating.

Now that's something.

Let's not fault the adhesive too much, though. It was pretty darn cold on the lakefront.