The Chicago Bears’ first training camp practice open to the public arrives on July 21 and we’ll be there, literally. But with training camp rapidly approaching and the team’s August 2 debut at the Hall of Fame Game around the corner, let’s take an early look at who’s on the team right now.
Today: Running back
The Starter: Jordan Howard (276 carries, 1,122 yards, 9 touchdowns; 73.6 grade from Pro Football Focus in 16 games)
The Reserves: Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Taquan Mizzell, Ryan Nall, Michael Burton (fullback)
Potential Training Camp Star: Ryan Nall has the makings of a breakout performer this summer. He is a powerful runner who checks in at 6-2, 232 pounds and is someone who could thrive in the red zone, having scored 21 rushing touchdowns in his final two seasons at Oregon State. The Bears made Nall a priority signing as an undrafted free agent, but he’ll need to round out his skills as a rusher, receiver, and special teams contributor if he is going to make the team.
We Really Like: Reading about Howard’s fight to improve as a pass-catcher feels like dèjá vu for our readers, but his commitment to getting it right is admirable. Howard has been working with new position coach Charles London and has been exploring different avenues that some might consider unconventional or outside-the-box with the idea of improving on his one glaring weakness. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, but nothing beats talent when it also works hard.
We Might Be Worried About: Injuries are a part of the game and no skill position takes punishment like running backs. With that in mind, I’m a bit uneasy about the Bears’ reserves behind Howard. This isn’t to say the collection of backs can’t get it done, but finding a load-carrying back among this group of backups isn’t easy. The Bears would have to get creative with their backfield in order to survive any significant injury. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that this year.
2018 Forecast: Howard is a virtual lock for 1,000 yards and Cohen projects to up some bigger numbers as a pass-catcher this year. But beyond that, we should look toward the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles for ideas on how the Bears could (and probably should) handle their running back rotation. The Eagles used the power of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, as well as Corey Clement’s versatility perfectly last season and rode that trio to a title. Nick Foles’ heroics aside, Philly doesn’t win it all without the balance that its running backs provided.
Bears backs can offer a similar set of skills, especially with Howard and Cohen at the top of the depth chart. It will be up to the coaching staff to put each rusher in the best possible spot to shine.