Could Indiana's Howard emerge as Chicago Bears big-body back?
Training camp is almost two months away, but there already appears to be an interesting position battle shaping up at running back.
Jeremy Langford, last year's fourth-round draft pick, is the presumptive successor to Matt Forte based on a promising rookie season. But it's unlikely that anyone in the Bears' stable of running backs will dominate the position as Forte did the previous eight seasons, when he averaged 254 carries and 61 receptions a year.
This year's fifth-round draft pick, Jordan Howard, could be the perfect complement to Langford, whose speed and big-play potential are his greatest assets.
"He's a bigger back," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said of the 6-foot, 230-pound Howard. "He's a change-of-pace back. Their skill sets are different. We We won't ask them to both do the same thing, but we'll find out what Howard does well and we'll play to that." A running back-by-committee approach might be the perfect showcase for Howard, who knows he has some attributes that fit the Bears' needs.
"I feel like I bring the big body, the big-body back (with) a lot of power," Howard said after Wednesday's OTA practice inside the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall. "I can get those tough yards. I'm able to squeeze through the tight holes and just bring a physical presence."
Howard, who started his collegiate career at Alabama-Birmingham but played his final season at Indiana after UAB dropped its football program, has 22 pounds on Langford and 20 on Ka'Deem Carey, the Bears' fourth-round pick in 2014.
Howard's size and strength allow him to run through arm tackles and wear down a defense. The longer he plays, the more Howard wants to carry the rock. He had 306 carries for 1,587 yards (5.2-yard average) in his final year at UAB.
Ankle and knee injuries last season caused him to miss four-plus games, but Howard still had 196 carries for 1,213 yards and a 6.2-yard average for the Hoosiers, including a 35-carry, 238-yard game against Michigan.
"The more carries I get, the better I get," Howard said. "I feel like after I wear the defense down early in a game, through (my) training, I just get stronger as the game goes on."
Although Howard is a logical choice for short-yardage and goalline situations, he has the vision and enough agility to be an every-down back. But he's at his best when the yards are the toughest.
"One-on-one in the hole with the linebacker, if it's short yards," he said, "I'm running straight through him."
Howard, who won't turn 22 until the second half of the regular season, could take touches away from Langford, but the rookie says he's comfortable seeking guidance from his (three years) older teammate.
"I talk to him every time we're out doing drills and stuff," Howard said. "He's helped me out and coached me up and given me tips on things I need to work on."
Learning the playbook and becoming a better pass-catcher and blocker are on Howard's to-do list, but Langford has been impressed.
"He's a smart kid," said Langford, who rushed for 537 yards on 148 carries last season (3.6-yards per attempt) and averaged 12.7 yards on 22 catches. "He's learned the offense real well."
Howard didn't expect to be drafted by the Bears because he had almost no pre-draft contact with them, but he's looking forward to being part of the running back solution.
"I'm not coming in to try to replace Matt Forte or anything like that," he said. "I'm just coming in to compete and make the running back room better and this team better.
"We all have different skill sets, and we can all work together to make this team a great team."
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