Jordan Howard’s pass-catching problems cannot be understated, especially now that the Chicago Bears’ new offense pretty much demands that running backs are impact players in the air, as well as on the ground.
But with a new position coach in tow, there’s hope that a new voice/perspective could lead to a refined technique and some improved production from one of the Bears’ most important offensive weapons.
Running Backs Coach Charles London told Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times that both he and Howard identified his shortcomings as a receiver and are working to address those issues (more specifics on those in a second). In the meantime, that London is happy with the work Howard has put in to improve in that facet of the game is the type of progress you’d hope to see at this stage of the offseason.
And while Howard’s hands are at the center of those issues, London believes there are “a lot of factors” that will go into making Howard a better receiver: “We’re working on hand placement … just his focus and concentration, hand-eye coordination, and things like that,” London said. “How he needs to position himself. How he needs to have his hands to catch the ball. … And I think he’s getting understanding of that. I’ve seen progress.” WOO! Progress!
*Throws up right hand for high-fives and waits*
This isn’t the first time we’ve held out hope for Howard showing improvement as a receiving running back. It was a focus point of last offseason, too. So much so, Howard had corrective eye surgery in hopes that it would help him in that area of the game. And while Howard’s catch percentage went up from 58 percent to nearly 72 percent, his still had five drops one year after dropping seven as a rookie in 2016. While that’s better from a statistical perspective, I would venture to say good isn’t enough when better is expected.
Reserve backs Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham played a bigger role in the passing game than Howard did last season. In fact, Cohen played two more passing snaps than Howard did last season and earned the eighth-highest receiving grade among running backs in 2017 from Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, Howard’s 39.0 receiving grade from PFF ranked 48th of 49 qualifying running backs. Only Carlos Hyde (34.9) had a worse showing than Howard. That’s not the kind of company you want to see Howard keeping when it comes to a pass-catching leaderboard.
In an ideal world, Howard moves up into the middle of the pack with a polished technique that leads to better results. Howard isn’t going to turn into Matt Forte overnight, but after seeing what Kareem Hunt did as a receiver as a rookie in Kansas City (53 catches, 455 yards, three touchdowns, 84.1% catch rate) it’s evident how important it is for Howard to improve here.
Howard’s role as a receiver will ultimately go a long way toward giving us an idea of what his role with this team will be this season and in the years to come. Remember, Howard and the Bears can begin negotiating a contract extension after the 2018 season. So I suppose it’s imperative that Howard gets it together as a pass-catcher if he wants to secure a healthy payday, because dual-threat running backs tend to get paid more than others.
But that’s a different conversation we can expand on another time.