By Chris Emma–

CHICAGO (CBS) — More than most, Jordan Howard knows opportunities don’t last forever.

After all, Howard was running back for the UAB Blazers two years ago. He had a bright future ahead, but his football program was shut down in December 2014.

That dreadful day still brings Howard emotion. He still wears a UAB wristband as a sign of solidarity with his former teammates and school.

Howard got a new chance by transferring to Indiana and ran his way to All-Big Ten honors and a spot with the Bears’ roster. Injuries to Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey in recent weeks have now given Howard a shot as the starting running back. On Sunday in his first showing as an NFL feature back, Howard rushed for 111 yards on 23 carries in the Bears’ 17-14 victory over the Lions.

Once again, he rose to the occasion.

“You just got to take advantage of every opportunity,” Howard said.

Key to Howard’s big afternoon at Soldier Field was strong play from the offensive line. A unit shuffled prior to Week 1 showed its best, opening holes. Howard hit them hard.

“Jordan is a big back, and we knew that when he came out of Indiana University,” Bears coach John Fox said. “The thing we didn’t know is the quickness of his feet and the vision he has. I think he’s outstanding, and we will ride him pretty good moving forward.”

Entering Sunday’s contest, Howard had carried the ball just 12 times for 67 yards. As his team fell to 0-3, Howard looked to be one of the few bright spots.

Howard got his opportunity to shine Sunday, with only Joique Bell and Raheem Mostert — both signed in consecutive weeks — as reserves. The Bears found themselves in a desperate situation in the backfield.

That’s where Howard comes in. The Bears were counting on their fifth-round pick to play like a first-rounder and help carry a struggling offense past a depleted Lions defense. He had the help of Bell, a former Lion who was telling him of tendencies to notice in Detroit’s defenders.

Howard’s first two carries went for minus-one yard. He gained 12 on his third but then limped off after taking a hit to the sensitive region. Soldier Field held its breath as another running back appeared to be injured.

Back came Howard to the backfield, and he put up big yards. His burst to the second level was quite impressive the rest of the game.

The Bears weren’t at all surprised by what Howard showed in his debut as a starting back.

“He practices hard, plays hard, is focused,” Bears guard Kyle Long said. “He’s a pretty mature guy and obviously runs very hard. It’s great to see a guy finish runs like that.”

Prior to Sunday, the Bears had failed to generate any kind of rhythm as an offense. Dowell Loggains’ unit had struggled through three games.

Much of that blame was on the rushing attack, which hadn’t mustered up much prior to Howard’s debut. Langford hasn’t been able to hit the hole, and Carey is injured once again. Stuck in the mud, the Bears turned to Howard with the hopes of moving forward.

It now seems so clear that Howard is the new starting running back for the Bears. He stepped in and earned that right.

Howard knew well to cherish his chance. They don’t last forever.

“It just means a lot,” he said. “You never know when your opportunity’s going to come and how long it’s going to be.”

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