By Chris Emma—
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) – It was a year ago that Jordan Howard was hardly a known name around the NFL – a fifth-round draft pick of the Bears who entered training camp out of shape and started his career in a hole on the running back depth chart.
Howard would go on to break the Bears’ rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 13 starts, emerging as one of the brighter young stars in the game.
Entering this training camp, Howard looked back on his rookie season with tempered feelings. After all, there were three games that he didn’t start.
“I definitely should’ve had more yards,” Howard said of his record season. “I should’ve been in better shape. I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do. I definitely could’ve had a lot more yards.”
Expectations are high for Howard as he enters this second season as a known commodity. After an outstanding rookie year, what more can come?
The Bears are wondering of that as well, with Howard set to be the centerpiece for a reworked offense that has a new starting quarterback in Mike Glennon and new receivers. He will work as the stabilizing force for this unit.
“You get into these OTAs and they’re in shorts, it’s hard to appreciate somebody like Jordan,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “You put on the full pads and the instincts and the pad level and the body lean he runs with — if I’m an offensive lineman, I like blocking for a guy like that. He’s going to maximize every carry and we expect that to continue to get better.”
Howard spent this offseason prioritizing his conditioning after learning the harsh lesson from last season. He trained in Highland Park and Florida with an emphasis on speed. Howard arrived at Olivet Nazarene on Wednesday weighing in at his usual 230 pounds but with his body fat trimmed from 15 percent to 13 percent.
The arrival of training camp brought a different feeling for Howard from a year ago, when he showed up in Bourbonnais unprepared to fight for the starting job. He’s now in top shape and has a greater familiarity of the NFL game after a breakout rookie season.
Howard set the bar high for himself.
“I don’t really feel like it’s daunting, because you want to get better each year – every year you’re playing the game,” Howard said. “I feel like once your first year in something – first year in college, first year in the NFL – you can only improve from there. I feel like I can only get better. But I also got to put the time in and not change anything, stay humble.
“It’s definitely a challenge to surpass those goals. But I’m definitely looking forward to it.”