The Chicago Bears offense is transitioning from former coordinator Adam Gase, who is now the head coach in Miami, to Dowell Loggains, who was the team's quarterbacks coach last season.
Yet the coaching shift does not mean a shift in playbooks, as Loggains will be using the same system.
"The shell of the offense will stay the same," Loggains said this off-season. "It’s been the same since coach [John] Fox has been a head coach. The language and everything will be the same but it will evolve like it would have if Adam would have been here.”
What's key in that statement is his reference to Fox, who clearly has an impact on the overall philosophy of the offense, which is to run the football.
In three of four seasons before inheriting Peyton Manning in Denver in 2012, Fox-led offenses ranked 3rd, 3rd and 1st in the NFL in total rushing yards. The Bears last year finished 11th in rushing and had the 6th most rushing attempts in the league.
That's clearly not going to change under Loggains, which means the backfield is going to once again be doing the heavy lifting for Chicago's offense.
A lot of the off-season conversation has been about Kevin White, the receivers and Jay Cutler, yet the Bears running backs should be getting most of the attention, as they'll be carrying the offense for the second straight season.
For the past eight years, that would have equated to a healthy workload for Matt Forte, one of the best all-around running backs in the NFL.
Yet Forte is now in New York, which creates a lot of uncertainty as to the manner in which the Bears will execute the rushing attack. The club will enter training camp with five running backs - Jeremy Langford, Jacquizz Rodgers, Ka'Deem Carey, Jordan Howard and Senorise Perry - and it's unclear at this point how the touches will be divided on game days.
"We’re going to [utilize] what each player does well," said Loggains. "Sometimes, maybe the hot hand gets the carries. Sometimes it’s 30, sometimes it’s 10. It depends. Each game plays out differently. Coach Fox has had a lot of success through his career of having different backs and playing a lot of different guys. Had some really talented guys. It’s kind of a feel thing. Stan Drayton, our running backs coach, has a great feel for what his guys can and can’t do and he does a great job with the rotation."
Fox reiterated his desire to use a committee approach.
"The biggest part is just kind of settling in on two guys typically in the rotation, who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are," Fox said during minicamp. "Then situationally, or it can be even just as far as who ever has got a hot hand, as far as in the game or the course of a game. I think it's hard to get through a season with just one back from a health stand point when you've got 11 guys chasing him around trying to whack him. We've still got a lot of time to decide those things."
If Fox and Loggains are speaking truthfully, then we should expect a full-blown RB competition in this year's training camp and preseason.
Due to his success in 2015 as a rookie, a lot of folks believe Jeremy Langford will assume the No. 1 role. He finished second on the team last year in rushing attempts (148) and rushing yards (536), while adding 22 catches for 279 yards. Additionally, his 7 total touchdowns tied with Forte for most on the team.
His performance last season has earned him first opportunity to claim that No. 1 spot, but it's only an opportunity, not a guarantee.
Langford averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry last season and led all running backs with 8 dropped passes. He struggled gaining yards after contact and was sketchy in pass protection as well.
While he's easily the fastest and most explosive ball carrier on the team, Langford is rough around the edges and isn't great any single area. If he hasn't polished his all-around game, there's a chance Langford could be relegated to change-of-pace duties before season's end, for two main reasons.
The first is that Jacquizz Rodgers is outstanding on 3rd downs. He's an accomplished receiver who caught 105 passes for the Falcons in 2013 and 2014 combined, and he's also stout in pass protection. Rodgers has roster security due to his added value on special teams, so he'll surely challenge Langford for that passing-down role.
The second is that rookie Jordan Howard (6-1, 230) appears to be a much better between-the-tackles runner. Howard is a bruising, downhill ball carrier that can wear down defenses. He'll be a part of the backfield split, no matter how it shakes out, but don't be surprised if Howard earns more and more touches as the season progresses. His running style will have a lot of value during those frigid December games at Soldier Field.
If Langford struggles in any area of his game this season, Rodgers and Howard will be their to pounce.
Additionally, Ka'Deem Carey is chomping at the bit to become a bigger part of the offense. Carey doesn't have Howard's size or Langford's speed but he runs with reckless abandon, which has already caught the eye of the coaching staff.
"We like where Jeremy’s at," said Loggains. "But he needs to continue told develop. There’s things he can do a better job of in the passing game, and we still like our other backs. Ka’Deem Carey finished strong for us last year. We obviously drafted [Howard]. We’re excited about getting Jacquizz Rodgers back as well. Getting him healthy."
Bottom line: Langford has a lot left to prove. He must be more productive between the tackles, while showing better hands and more reliability in pass protection. If he falters in any of those areas, Loggains won't hesitate to replace him.
"[The pressure] is a lot different. It’s up to me, how I deal with it," Langford said. "Last year, it was more, ‘Let’s see what he can do,’ and now it’s ‘We need you out there to make plays.’ Just going out there with the mentality that you can be a playmaker and do the same thing you did in college."
Even if Langford demonstrates he deserves the majority of the touches, that majority may cap at 60 percent. No matter how well Langford plays, the Bears are going to use a committee approach, which could involve three backs on game days. And if Howard finds his groove by mid-season, he'll begin to siphon more touches as temperatures drop in Chicago.
At the end of the day, I predict an even split of carries between Langford and Howard, with Howard eventually assuming the bell cow role. In that scenario, Howard can soften up defenses, who then won't have the energy to chase down the speedy Langford if he finds a crease. I also foresee Rodgers taking over primary 3rd-down duties.
This is going to be a three-headed monster, one that can be very effective in 2016 due to the unique talents of each back on the roster.