Jordan Howard returns to Indiana as the Bears’ top running back

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Jordan Howard #24 of the Chicago Bears tries to break away from Devin Taylor #98 of the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field on October 2, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Jordan Howard #24 of the Chicago Bears tries to break away from Devin Taylor #98 of the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field on October 2, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

LAKE FOREST – The last time he stepped foot in the state, he put on a performance that gave him the opportunity he’ll have on Sunday.

That was November 14th at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana. That day Jordan Howard introduced himself to the Michigan Wolverines and anyone else that might not have noticed him during his previous three seasons in college football.

Howard carried the ball 35 times for 238 yards-good for 6.8 yards per carry-while scoring a pair of touchdowns as Indiana took Jim Harbaugh’s team to double overtime before losing 48-41. It was at that moment that he cemented himself as one of the best backs in college football and caught the attention of NFL scouts.

Just under a year later, Howard returns to the Hoosier State with his stock on the rise again.

Thanks to his good performances and injuries in the backfield, the rookie running back will go to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday as the Bears’ top running back against the Colts. Last week Howard had his first career milestone – a 111-yard rushing game – in helping the Bears to their first win of the season.

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” said Howard of being the starting back. “Just being the main guy you know you can be comfortable and relax-sort of. You don’t have to worry about being pulled very fast and you can definitely get into a rhythm.”

That didn’t take long for Howard despite the fact that he didn’t play in the Bears’ first game against the Texans. Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey were the runners in that contest but an injury to the latter got Howard some playing time against the Eagles. He made a good first impression as he gained ten yards on his first carry in the third quarter then followed that up on the next play with an eight-yard rush.

Against the Cowboys his carries went from three to nine and his 36-yard rush was one of the highlights of an otherwise long night for the Bears offense. Langford’s injury in that contest made Howard the starter against the Lions and he delivered a 23-carry, 111-yard performance at Soldier Field. As much as the yardage impressed John Fox the coach was more impressed with his ability

“Jordan is a big back and we knew that when he came out of Indiana University. The thing we didn’t know is the quickness of his feet and the vision he has,” said Fox of Howard on Sunday. “I think he’s outstanding and we will ride him pretty good moving forward.”

Howard liked the sound of that when told about the comment during his news conference at Halas Hall on Monday, though he does take pride in the physicality of his game and what it can do to a defense. The bruising style is a reputation he first gained while at UAB where he rushed for 2,468 yards in his first two years at the school before the ending of their football program led to his transfer to Indiana.

In his only year with the Hoosiers, Howard’s physicality translated well to the Big Ten where he rushed for 1,213 yards with a 6.8 per carry average and nine touchdowns.

“I definitely feel like that is part of my game,” said Howard of his physical style. “I feel like they (the Lions) were worn down as the game went on but I definitely make the defense not want to tackle me towards the end of the game. So I try to bring everything that I have in each run.”

On Sunday Howard tries to do that against a team allowing 105.8 yards a game on the ground in the Colts (18th in the NFL) as he returns to the state he used to call home. Just as he did 45 minutes down the road in Bloomington, he comes to Indianapolis as the guy getting the ball first out of the backfield.

“I feel like it gives me more confidence. I don’t feel like there is any pressure, I just have to do what I’ve been doing all my life and I know the O-line and the receivers and the tight ends will block well for me and coach will get me in the right plays,” said Howard. “I just feel like I have to do my job. No added pressure.”

Just like the last time he carried a football in the Hoosier State.