By Chris Emma—

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) – Tucked away in the corner of a cramped visiting locker room, Bears running back Jordan Howard offered his appreciation for those who paved the way. He had just rushed 23 carries for 147 yards and two scores in a win over the Bengals on Dec. 10 and had a lot of love to give.

“The O-line, they opened up great holes for me,” Howard said. “Tight ends did a great job. Receivers, they did a great job. Coaches did a great job of (forming) the game plan.”

Fullbacks just don’t get the respect they deserve these days. Just beyond the scrum of reporters stood Michael Burton, waiting to hear his name called. But he doesn’t need to go all Rodney Dangerfield after a performance like that from Howard. It’s all on the tape.

Behind so many of Howard’s runs this season is a sealing block from Burton, the 25-year-old signed to the roster in late May. In time, they managed to develop a seamless chemistry built on anticipation. Howard knows well what Burton brings, and Burton has a great respect for what makes Howard such a special rusher.

“He’s such a great back with his vision, that he can help me set up my block and he might not even know he’s doing it,” Burton said. “The way he uses his eyes, he might be looking out when my backer is going out with me, and then he’ll make a quick cut up where it’s already too late for my backer to react back. So, he does a lot of great stuff to make my job easier.”

During that victory in Cincinnati, Howard became the first player in Bears history to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in his first two NFL seasons. For a franchise with legends like Walter Payton and Gale Sayers, it’s a significant achievement.

Howard has rushed for 1,069 yards and seven touchdowns this season, solidifying his place as one of the best rushers in the game. Though he wasn’t selected in the initial Pro Bowl voting, it’s likely that Howard lands in Orlando once again this January as an alternate.

In Howard, the Bears have a staple to their backfield for years to come. There’s a lot more to his game than just athleticism. It takes tremendous precision to do what Howard does.

If the hole isn’t there, Howard puts his patience on display with the shuffle of his feet until he finds the seam. When Burton hits his block, Howard often maneuvers the other way and finds open field. He has the instincts to recognize where the run should go and the capability to bust the play any time.

Burton knew coming in that Howard was a Pro Bowl player who surpassed the century mark with relative ease his rookie season. It wasn’t until their work began in OTAs last June that he realized the balance and patience that led to those big runs.

Then, Howard put on the pads in training camp and really made an impression on his fullback.

“He gives everything he’s got when he steps onto the field and straps it up,” Burton said. “He gives it everything he’s got.

“He wants to carry the load. As he gets going, he just keeps getting better and better, looks for contact. He sacrifices for the team.”

As Howard has put the finishing touches on another strong campaign, the respect for his work continues to grow.

And Burton has a front-row seat to the evolution of a young running back.

Extra point: Veteran safety Quintin Demps will remain on injured reserve, with the team allowing his 21-day practice window to close. The move became official Thursday evening.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670 The Score 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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