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updated: 8/17/2017 9:46 PM

Bears RB Howard eager to build on last year's success

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  • Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard, right, might not have had many carries in the Bears' preseason opener, but he's still expected to carry the load this season.

    Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard, right, might not have had many carries in the Bears' preseason opener, but he's still expected to carry the load this season.
    Associated Press

 
 

After rushing for 1,313 yards as a rookie in 2016 and going to the Pro Bowl, Jordan Howard doesn't have to prove anything in the preseason.

He had just 3 carries for 4 yards in the Bears' preseason opener. Regardless of how muck work he gets Saturday night in Arizona against the Cardinals in the second preseason game, the Bears' offense will revolve around him once the games count.

Despite his impressive rookie season, Howard hasn't lost the hunger or the chip on his shoulder that started when Alabama-Birmingham was the only FBS school that offered him a scholarship. That chip got heavier after the UAB program was disbanded. That sent Howard to Indiana for his senior season, after which he languished until the fifth round of the draft when the Bears stole him with the 150th overall pick.

Early success can be a curse for players not as well-grounded as the 23-year-old Howard, but he has remained unaffected.

"Young, rich and famous is not a great combo in most cases," Bears coach John Fox said. "So, whether it's at our level or whatever -- Hollywood or wherever -- it can be interesting. I've been impressed with how he's handled it.

"His humility and his ability to stay humble was pretty impressive (last year) -- really beyond his years. To be able to deal with prosperity the same as adversity, I've been impressed with him that way."

No one in the NFC averaged more yards per carry than Howard's 5.2 last season, despite his lack of breakaway speed. According to Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman, Howard used a combination of agility, power and vision as he rushed for more yards than any rookie in franchise history. And Howard didn't start until the fourth game of the season, when then-No. 1 Jeremy Langford suffered a high ankle sprain.

"He's pretty savvy for a young guy," Freeman said of the 6-foot, 224-pound Howard. "And he's a big guy that can get through small creases -- I'm still trying to figure out how.

"Just (by) making little cuts, (he's) getting to that second level and (finding) little creases. It's good to be able to have a running game, especially when you're trying to control that clock. On defense, we can sit on the bench for a little bit and get a rest. He's toting that rock pretty well now."

Regardless of how many accolades he receives and how many yards he rushed for last season, there doesn't appear to be any chance Howard will rest on his laurels. He may be the only person on the planet who was dissatisfied with his rookie season.

"I definitely should've had more yards," he said. "I should've been in better shape. I should've been playing earlier. If I would've handled what I had to do, I definitely could've had a lot more yards."

Howard's weight is about the same as last season. But he spent the off-season working to improve his stamina and reduced his percentage of body fat from 15 to 12, which has had a noticeable impact.

"(It's) just being able to run longer and not getting as tired as fast," he said. "Being able to push myself a lot more than in the past. During OTAs, I was able to finish downfield on a lot of my runs instead of just cutting them short."

Howard also caught 29 passes for 298 yards, but he had a few drops, so that's on his list of things to improve.

"Definitely in the passing game, receiving, pass-blocking, recognizing the defenses and where the blitzes are coming from, things like that," Howard said.

From his perspective, Howard still has plenty to prove.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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