Midway through the 2019 season, Jordan Howard suffered a serious neck injury and was replaced in the Eagles’ starting lineup by rookie Miles Sanders.
Two years later, the tables have been turned. With Sanders out for at least three weeks with an ankle injury, the Eagles elevated Howard from the practice squad to the active roster Saturday.
Howard, a Pro Bowler in 2016 and twice a 1,000-yard rusher with the Bears, is expected to have a significant role on Sunday, when the Eagles face the Lions at Ford Field in Detroit.
“He's practiced with the starters this week, and we have a lot of confidence in him,” head coach Nick Sirianni said Friday.
As a practice squad call-up, Howard is paid minimum-wage for his experience level for this week, which is $55,000. His practice squad salary is $14,000 per week.
With Howard unavailable last Sunday in Vegas, Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott split up the 12 remaining carries after Sanders left the game.
But Howard, who had the 3rd-most rushing yards in the NFL from 2016 through the middle of 2019, is best-suited to handling a heavier workload, although with Sirianni calling the plays who even knows how heavy the workload will ever be.
It’s been a strange couple years for Howard, who’s still only 26 years old.
He hit free agency after his rookie contract ran out following the 2019 season and signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Dolphins, but he lasted only five games, averaging 1.2 yards on 28 carries. The Dolphins cut him, the Eagles re-signed him and he finished last season in obscurity back with the Eagles.
They brought him back for training camp, and he had a solid camp but was released as part of final cuts. He’s been on the practice squad ever since.
Not very often you have a 26-year-old former Pro Bowler on the practice squad.
“I just see a guy that comes to work every day and does his job every day and prepares our defense,” Sirianni said. “The last month or so he's been preparing our defense to get ready to play and working on his craft as a running back.
“And that's what pros do. They come to work every day and they do what's required of them and even more. … They're ready when their number is called.”
From 2016 through the middle of 2019, Howard got 897 carries for 3,895 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Since getting hurt almost exactly two years ago – Nov. 3, 2019 – Howard has just 35 carries.
Howard said during the summer he feared his career might be over before the Eagles re-signed him.
“Last year I feel like things didn’t go my way,” he said back in August. “A lot of that was myself. I had to look in the mirror in the offseason and see what I could work on. I was still coming back from injury so I kind of let that affect how I worked out.
“I put on weight and it was just hard getting it off and when I got it off I still wasn’t in the best shape. So I just had to buckle down in the offseason. It took me a while to get my strength back.
“I just knew if I came in the best shape that I could be in I would give myself a chance. I knew if I wasn’t in shape I wouldn’t really have a chance.”
Sanders has 63 carries for 300 yards and a 4.8 average with 19 receptions for 118 yards this year and 2,809 scrimmage yards in 35 career games with the Eagles.
He was placed on Injured Reserve on Friday and is eligible to return for the Eagles’ game Nov. 21 at the Linc vs. the Saints.
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