In my Chicago Bears 53-man roster projection from yesterday, I stated my belief that rookie RB Jordan Howard would be a game-day inactive early in the regular season.
My stance was that Howard missed time with a hamstring injury during OTAs, which set him back, and he remained buried on the depth chart throughout the preseason. With Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers, the Bears have more than enough talent for a committee backfield, and keeping four running backs active on Sundays would clog up the game-day roster.
Yet after last night's performance against the Cleveland Browns, I may have to re-think my stance on Howard. The fifth-round rookie carried 16 times for 107 rushing yards, adding 2 catches for 33 yards. He finished the game with 140 total yards and a TD, all of which came in the second half.
Howard showed the power for which he's been touted, particularly on his touchdown run, during which he carried two defenders across the goal line. He also showed good quickness, field vision and hands, and looked like a man among boys.
The Bears drafted Howard because of his bell-cow potential and his prowess as a short-yardage runner, all of which was on display in the preseason finale. As such, will Howard have an expanded role on offense once the regular season opens next week against the Houston Texans?
It's worth remembering that Howard's strong outing last night came against Browns second- and third-stringers, so Bears fans should temper their excitement some. Against the Chiefs in Week 3, he averaged just 2.0 yards per carry.
Also, Howard was again the last back on the field, which shows he's still low man on the totem pole. Jeremy Langford is the starter heading into the season and Jacquizz Rodgers is the third-down back and special teams ace. Howard isn't supplanting either player, at least not right now.
Ka'Deem Carey is a John Fox favorite and will likely split time with Langford in a backfield timeshare. As a result, even following a dominant showing in Cleveland, it's likely Howard will start the year as a game-day inactive.
Yet now the Bears know what they have in Howard and the coaching staff surely won't hesitate to turn to him if the need arises. If Carey, who averaged 2.5 yards per carry this preseason, or Langford falter, or are injured, Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will quickly turn to the team's bruising rookie runner to pick up the slack.
Barring injury, Howard may never earn the lion's share of touches in Chicago's backfield this year, but if he gets hot late in the season, he could be a serious weapon for the Bears offense, especially in the frigid temperatures of the Windy City.
Bottom line, Howard appears to be the downhill, physical back the Bears believed him to be coming out of Indiana. He hasn't earned anything yet, and he needs to improve in pass protection, but he's taken the first step toward gaining the trust of the coaching staff, which could pay big dividends for Howard, and Chicago's offense, later in the year.