Monster’s Mash: Jordan Howard a bright spot during a rough start for the Bears
LAKE FOREST – It’s the first weekend in October and already the conversation is about the future.
Welcome to Bears’ football over the past three seasons. Hope for what is ahead tends to ease some of the pain of defeats in the present.
An 0-3 start forces everyone to think of the future and right now for the Bears one of the brighter spots remains a rookie who has given the team a reason to be excited the first few weeks.
That’s running back Jordan Howard, a fifth-round pick out of Indiana who has seen more time with injuries to Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford over the last two games. So far he’s carried the ball 12 times for 67 yards – an average of 5.6 yards per carry-while also grabbing six passes for 56 yards.
His 36-yard run was one of the biggest highlights for the Bears against the Cowboys and caught the eye of his coaches and teammates.
“He’s bigger than you think he is and I think he’s learning how to practice the right way,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains of Howard. “He’s got good feet, good vision, and he looks a lot faster than what he is as well.”
The sample size is still small for Howard who has touched the ball just 18 times in his NFL career. In fact he didn’t get a carry or catch in the opener against the Texans and didn’t make an appearance in the Eagles’ game until the third quarter.
Still John Fox has seen a number of facets to Howard’s still developing game to be encouraged.
“Every time he’s touched the ball he’s been pretty impressive,” said Fox of Howard. “To play running back in the National Football League it’s a little more than just running the ball. Some of those things take a little bit longer to learn and execute under pressure consistently and he’s done that pretty well when we have called on him during the regular season.”
Those attributes are a main reason that Howard, who rushed for 1,231 yards and nine touchdowns for Indiana last year, will see the bulk of the carries against the Lions on Sunday afternoon. One of the main talking points during his media session this week was his hopes to improve his blocking, another characteristic of Howard’s game which he’s been lauded for early in the season.
Howard said he’s taken extra time to work with running back coach Stan Drayton to try to improve his blocking for an elevated role over the next month.
“When you come into the league you always want to be the feature guy but I definitely wasn’t expect this to come this fast,” said Howard. “I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity but I’m not going to let it slip through my hands either, I’m going to make the most out of my opportunities.”
Patience with Jay
As the Bears have their issues at running back taken care of for the moment the questions continue about the quarterback decision.
In all likelihood Brian Hoyer gets his second start since Jay Cutler missed the final two practices of the week after limited work on Wednesday. The backup does so with the rookie running back behind him in Howard and a main receiver in Alshon Jeffery who continues to battle knee problems.
“You have to just keep improving. No one is going to feel sorry for us. Everybody has injuries and unfortunately it’s part of the business,” said Hoyer, who threw for 317 yards and two second-half touchdowns in the loss to the Cowboys last Sunday.
While he certainly has proved to be a more capable back up than Jimmy Clausen, who backed up Cutler during his injury in 2015, there is a desire to get the starter back in the lineup. Shoddy protection up front caused a rushed Cutler to be off his game in the opening seven quarters of the season and if he can play the odds of the Bears finding an offensive rhythm increases.
That being said, the Bears are in no hurry to rush Cutler’s recover from a thumb injury. With Hoyer at the helm the team would rather their top quarterback come back healthy than rush quickly back to the lineup.
“When you have a leader like Jay is for us offensively, the guy that he is, the quarterback he is, it’s never good not to have him on the field,” said tight end Zach Miller. “But that is just part of how it goes. I don’t think it was a setback thing for him today but it’s just one of those things where you are trying to get him right and make sure he’s good for the long run and hopefully that happens soon.”
0-3 is Something They Know
Regrettably John Fox has been in this position before. In fact it’s the second-straight season that three opening games have meant three defeats.
Jerrell Freeman is the opposite. This is the first time in his NFL career that a season has begun with a trio of losses.
“There’s no panic,” said Freeman. “There is a sense of urgency, that’s for sure.”
Because once again a Bears season appears on the brink of fading quickly as the team exits their first quarter of the season. Last year the same thing happened and were able to sneak out a win over the Raiders at home to get on the board.
Doing so against the Lions this week would end a bit of a dubious streak against the division rivals. Detroit has won the last six games in the series dating back to the start of the 2013 season. You have to go back to 1968-1970 to find the last time the Lions have won a half-dozen games in a row over Chicago.
Like Freeman, Fox seemed collected when discussing the second-straight poor start to a season and even was a bit understanding of the predicament his team is in at the moment.
“We have a young football team. We have some new guys that are new to our systems, even more so now with some of the injuries,” said Fox. “Nobody comes and rescues you, they don’t cancel the rest of the season. You’ve just got to find a way.”
STAT OF THE WEEK: 16
The number of years since the Bears started a season with an 0-4 record.
In 2000 the Bears dropped their first four games before upsetting the Packers on the road in Week 5. The victory didn’t lead to more success as the team finished 5-11 on the season.