This is the second of our position-by-position series previewing what to watch in Bears training camp this summer. The team reports to Bourbonnais on July 26.
The star of the Bears’ offense this summer is at running back in the form of Jordan Howard, and he has a couple of new teammates in the position room with fourth-round rookie Tarik Cohen and former Rams back Benny Cunningham. The Bears also have a couple of fullbacks and bring back Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. Here are the key questions to be answered at running back during training camp.
What can Howard do for an encore? The numbers were astonishing for the fifth-round pick who didn’t even play in the season opener: 1,313 yards, 5.2 yards a carry, seven 100-yard games. Howard only found the end zone six times, so that figures to improve, but he won’t sneak up on any defenses this season. Howard is the best threat for the Bears on offense heading into 2017. He’s running behind a fantastic interior O-line and should get a Year 2 bump after a full offseason as the Bears’ starting back. Howard will have more pressure on him this season to carry the offense and stay healthy. How he adapts to the way defenses play him will be key, and if he’s still the same back we saw last season when the Bears are in Bourbonnais, that will be important to give the offense some confidence.
Can Langford bounce back? When Matt Forte didn’t re-sign, it was supposed to be Langford’s backfield. An ankle injury and the emergence of Howard put Langford, who flashed as a rookie, in the back seat. If he’s healthy, he has the speed and pass-catching abilities to be the right complement to Howard in the backfield, but he’ll have to fend off the rookie and show that he’s unfazed from a tough second season. That process begins in camp.
How will the offense utilize Cohen? One of the highlights in OTAs and minicamp was Cohen, a human highlight reel in college. He clearly has the shiftiness and playmaking ability to be a force in the open field, but making plays in minicamp in shorts is one thing. Doing it against a padded defense (albeit one that is not supposed to bring down the ball carrier) will be a challenge, especially as he makes the transition from the MEAC defense he faced in college. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has a Swiss Army knife in the backfield to get creative with, and we’ll start to see how involved Cohen can be in the offense during camp.
Who gets the final roster spots? Carey remains with the team entering his fourth season. coach John Fox has always liked Carey’s abilities between the tackles, and he’s shown value on special teams, but he had only 32 carries last season. He’ll be battling Cunningham, who had only 21 carries in 2016 but is going to be involved in the kickoff-return competition, giving him an edge to make the roster. At fullback, undrafted rookie Freddie Stevenson will compete with former Lion Mike Burton. Former Northern Illinois back Joel Bouagnon will vie for a spot on the practice squad.