Running Man Challenge: Bears Still Searching For Backfield Solutions

By Chris Emma–

(CBS) Just three games in to what’s already been tough season, faced with a second consecutive 0-3 start, the Bears are trying desperately to find solutions at running back.

Yes, a position that’s meant to much to the heritage franchise — with names like Walter Payton and Gale Sayers — is left searching for someone to carry the football. Eight years of consistency from Matt Forte left fans in Chicago spoiled.

Second-year general manager Ryan Pace elected to trust his youth at running back, which was his primary reason for letting Forte walk away from the franchise in free agency to join the Jets. They believed in their guys, feeling the 30-year-old Forte was removed from his best days.

“Really it was just the confidence we have in our younger backs and treating (Forte) with respect,” Pace said back in March.

Unfortunately for Pace, his hopes haven’t panned out early into this season. Looking to sustain depth, the Bears signed 30-year-old Joique Bell on Tuesday, adding 561 career carries to a group that currently has touched the ball 12 times.

Jeremy Langford was slated to be the Bears’ feature back entering the season, but he’s now expected to miss several weeks with an ankle sprain suffered in Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys. Even before the injury, Pace’s fourth-round pick of 2015 had averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and 3.6 last season.

The Bears expected third-year back Ka’Deem Carey to play a role, but he managed just three carries for seven yards before suffering a hamstring injury. Carey didn’t travel with the team to Dallas.

Enter Jordan Howard, the fifth-round pick out of Indiana who has shown flashes to this point. Still, he’s a rookie with just 12 carries and 57 yards to this point.

Stuck in what’s now a dire situation, the Bears are hoping they have something in Howard — not only for their current struggles in the run game but perhaps for the future. But it will take some time to truly judge.

Howard is a strong runner with a knack for hitting the hole and finding those extra yards. He’s made the most of his early opportunity.

“He’s a heck of a young player,” Bears guard Kyle Long said of Howard.

The Bears did their research on plenty of running backs during the pre-draft process. They scouted out a number of prospects, including Ezekiel Elliott at the top of the draft. In the end, Howard was their guy.

Heading into Year 2 for this regime, it was expected that Langford and Carey could handle the burden. The Bears even released veteran Jacquizz Rodgers, feeling their young trio could manage just fine.

Now, the Bears’ running back depth chart is led by Howard, a rookie of 12 carries; Bell, a 30-year-old veteran signed off the streets; and Raheem Mostert, a former Big Ten champion track star at Purdue with zero NFL touches.

Can the Bears finally get the ground game moving?

“To run the ball well, it takes all 11 guys,” first-year Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last week. “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’ offense has seen tremendous struggles through his first three games on the job. A theme to that has been a scuffling run game, which has left the entire unit looking for its rhythm.

Already, the abilities of Loggains as a play-caller have come into question. Bears coach John Fox was asked about his offensive coordinator on Monday.

“Like everybody, not good enough,” Fox said, not exactly offering a vote of confidence.

The Bears have enough problems already. Their defense is depleted and can’t get off the field. Jay Cutler is hurt and Brian Hoyer is the new quarterback. Kevin White has yet to become the complement to Alshon Jeffery. Pace’s other first-round pick, Leonard Floyd, has looked nothing more than raw.

Fox’s team is 0-3 for a second straight season.

At the least, the Bears could’ve expected for some semblance of a consistent rushing attack. They entered this season hoping their three young players could carry on with where Forte left.

Now, the Bears’ hopes rest in the hands of Howard, the rookie who’s shown a few flashes out of the backfield. Or maybe Bell can find his old form?

Only three weeks and three running backs in, it feels as if the Bears are decades removed from Forte.

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

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