Emma: Bears’ Young Running Backs Must Grow Up Fast

By Chris Emma–

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Early into his tenure as general manager in Chicago, Ryan Pace made his direction clear — bring younger, better football players to the Bears.

Identifying that talent is the task of Pace and his Bears brass, but infusing the locker room with youth doesn’t necessarily mean better results. In the case of the Bears’ young running back room, the results are still lacking.

Pace opted to let eight-year veteran Matt Forte walk in free agency this past offseason, believing his best days were behind him at the age of 30. It was a fair belief coupled with the confidence that Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey could replace Forte in the backfield. Pace also added rookie Jordan Howard in the draft, creating a three-man stable that boasted three years of experience entering this season.

Two games into the Bears’ season, the running game has been non-existent. Langford is the team’s leading rusher with just 85 yards and 3.0 yards per carry average. Carey has seven yards on just three carries. Howard stepped in Monday with three rushes for 22 yards but was promptly pulled for Langford.

Collectively, the Bears have averaged only 3.6 yards per carry, a number that doesn’t even truly detail how inefficient the rushing game has been.

“Definitely not where we wanted to be,” Langford said.

The Bears offense has been poor during its first two games, scoring just a combined 21 points in a pair of losses and getting completely shut out in the second half.

Greater problems have emerged, with quarterback Jay Cutler likely sidelined for Sunday’s game against the Cowboys while he deals with a thumb sprain. The running game will be needed as the Bears search for some semblance of an offense.

Running the ball hasn’t come easy for the Bears. The shuffled offensive line hasn’t opened the holes consistently enough — having guard Kyle Long playing with a shoulder injury eliminates the prowess of an elite run blocker — and the young backs haven’t been good enough at recognizing the right running lanes.

“To run the ball well, it takes all 11 guys,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “That’s what’s different on offense than defense. Defense it takes one guy to make a tackle. To gain four yards on offense, it takes 11 guys doing their job.”

Loggains will find himself under pressure if the offense continues to sputter during his first season. He was tasked with replacing Adam Gase, who went to Miami to become head coach of the Dolphins. Bears coach John Fox could’ve found a veteran coordinator, but he trusted the stability of promoting Loggains, his quarterbacks coach.

While Loggains was a natural fit for Cutler, his abilities as a play-caller came into question. His one stint as a coordinator, a season with the Titans, was a failure. Loggains’ leadership of the quarterbacks is proven, but his offense is anything but. That starts with the running game.

Removing Forte from the picture only increased the difficulty of Loggains’ job. Forte was the workhorse for the backfield, bringing abilities in the running, passing and blocking game. Now, Forte is the league’s second-leading rusher with 196 yards (at 3.8 yards per carry) and three touchdowns in his first season with the Jets.

Like his coordinator, Langford will come under fire if his struggles continue. He was deemed the replacement for one of the Bears’ all-time greats.

“Me personally, I think I can do a lot better than I did in these last two games,” Langford said. “And I think, as an offense, we know what we can fix. It’s all fixable.”

Ideally, the Bears would like to operate their running back rotation with the entire stable. They believe in the versatility of their three players and feel it can create a dynamic attack.

But if the production is lacking with Langford at the top and if Carey remains sidelined with his hamstring injury, they could turn to the rookie Howard with the hopes of finding something.

“He looked faster than I thought he did in preseason and played with a little bit more urgency,” Loggains said.

Despite the struggles, the Bears backs believe that a turnaround could be as simple as hitting the right hole and fighting for those extra yards.

After Pace’s bold move this offseason, the team doesn’t have any other choice but to remain confident in them. Each player must stay confident, too, and hope for the yards to come.

“I definitely feel like we’re on the same thinking that we’re going to get this going, because it’s just a few things that are messing it up,” Howard said. “We all feel that we can run the ball very well.”

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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