The Chicago Bears’ leading rusher, Jordan Howard, being held out of practice is always going to make us a little uneasy, but then again, it’s just a training camp practice in August.
Mark Grote of 670 The Score/the Chicago Bears Radio Network reports that Howard did not practice on Tuesday. Head Coach Matt Nagy told reporters Howard “banged his knee the other day” leading the running back to sit out as a precautionary measure, but the Bears’ top back has yet to be ruled out for Thursday’s preseason contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Chicago’s decision-makers are likely to exercise a “better safe than sorry” policy when it comes to figuring out if Howard will play in Cincinnati. The team already showed it was willing to err on the side of caution during the preseason opener against the Ravens, sitting a vast majority of its expected starters and leaning heavily on backups and players on the bottom half of the roster. Should the Bears continue down this path, it should lead to more snaps for Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell.
While Tarik Cohen has his job as Howard’s top backup locked down, there is a position battle brewing between Cunningham and Mizzell for the team’s third back.
Cunningham is a seasoned veteran who has valuable special teams experience under his belt. The Bears used Cunningham as their primary back on third downs and during the two-minute drill because of his route-running and pass-catching skills out of the backfield, in addition to his role as a kick returner. Cunningham received a bigger workload in the preseason opener, getting the start and gaining 37 rushing yards on six carries. That 6.2 yards per carry average looks healthy, but it’s worth noting that 30 yards came on one big play. If Howard sits and the Bears decide to ease Cohen into the offense, Cunningham could continue to gain more preseason snaps.
If Cunningham is getting more burn in the preseason, then Mizzell probably won’t be that far behind. The Bears snagged Mizzell off the waiver wire after the preseason ended last summer, stuck with the team, and finds himself jockeying for position on the 2018 roster. Mizzell could conceivably play a role similar to that of Cunningham, which means Howard’s absence from the lineup could help settle a position battle behind him on the depth chart.
Howard is too important to the offense to rush him back from a minor training camp injury. So while it would be great to see the two-time 1,000-yard rusher and 2016 Pro Bowler getting some valuable on-the-field reps with his new offensive teammates, the Bears will need to find a balance between the value of in-game reps and injury risk management when it comes to one of the most important pieces of the offensive puzzle.