By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — The end in Kansas City for Bears defensive lineman Jaye Howard was sudden, stunning and highly motivating.
He had proved to be a force up front for the Chiefs’ defense and was rewarded with a two-year deal in the 2016 offseason. It had seemed Howard would be a key piece for the defensive identity in Kansas City, but he was cut loose this past April with a failed physical designation.
Not only does Howard have to prove his effectiveness after dealing with a hip injury in 2016, but now he also needs to make an impact with the Bears, who were willing to take a chance on him.
“Bounce back and make them pay for it,” Howard said of the Chiefs’ decision to release him. “Every time they turn on the Bears film, they’re going to have to realize that they let go a great player.”
Added defensive lineman counterpart Akiem Hicks: “Now that he’s here, shoot, I’m excited. I look forward to playing across from him.”
Howard is now 28 and settling in with the Bears, having signed with the team in early May. It was an ideal match, with the Bears seeking another five-technique for their budding defense and Howard searching for a comfortable landing spot after being released.
Upon arrival for his visit at Halas Hall, the Bears presented film of Hicks and his breakout season, showing Howard the kind of impact he, too, is capable of with this defense and coaching.
Howard saw the potential of what this defense could become. After all, he was part of the Chiefs’ defense rising to be among the best in the game.
“I see the same thing on the defense that we had in Kansas City; I can see it here,” Howard said. “I came from a great front seven. Being able to come in here trying to get that here, I feel like it’s going in the right direction. I’m just excited to be a part of it.
“I feel like the sky’s going to be the limit for that defensive front. You got big Eddie (Goldman), Akiem and also you got Mitch (Unrein). … We’re going to set the tone for the defense.”
Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has been forced to utilize a nickel package instead of the 3-4 base look the majority of the time, in part because he hasn’t been given a more reliable third-down lineman. The team drafted Eddie Goldman in the second round of the 2015 draft and signed Hicks in 2016 while missing out on Howard.
The hope for Fangio and the Bears is that they can rely on three powerful pass rushers up front, which would lessen the burden on the next two levels of the defense and allow the linebackers to be more active too. The Bears believe they finally have the kind of front seven that fits the style of Fangio and envision having a a difference-making unit, with Howard as a missing piece.
He’s raring to go.
“I feel like we can be great,” he said. “Being able to come in and help be a playmaker, I think that’s really going to boost it. It can definitely be a top-10 defense.”