By Chris Emma–

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Somewhere in that bulky frame, buried well beneath the hard-nosed demeanor, Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard hides his emotions.

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Teammates haven’t seen them yet. They constantly marvel at Howard’s approach to each day, whether it brings victory, defeat or more work. He’s steady like a rock.

“Nothing really shakes that kid,” quarterback Jay Cutler said of his new backfield mate.

Whether the Bears’ front office brass knew it or not, they may have found a future at running back with their fifth-round selection of Howard. Two-and-a-half months after allowing Matt Forte to walk, they found a rookie who runs like a Forte.

Film study would confirm the beliefs in Howard — his hard running ability, natural instincts and that mentality to run through a tackler. Now, it’s becoming ever so clear that Howard’s demeanor is what makes the difference.

Howard has been touted by coaches and teammates as a workhorse. His unflappable mindset helps bring success. Howard hardly celebrates after his touchdowns.

“I don’t let a lot of things get to me,” Howard said. “I’ve always been like that.”

Receiver Josh Bellamy, a vocal presence in the Bears’ locker room, cracked a smile.

“That’s his personality,” he said of Howard. “He’s a quiet guy, but he talks big on the field with his play. That’s all we can ask for.”

Chicago heads to New York this weekend with its record sitting at 2-7. Collectively, this season has been a great disappointment. Coach John Fox was supposed to have the Bears playing a much better game of football by this point of his second season, but they haven’t.

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While the franchise searches for long-term solutions — starting with evaluations of the head coach and quarterback — it can feel comfortable about the early developments at running back. When Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey went down early in the season, Howard took full control of the job.

Howard has hit 100 yards rushing in four of his first six NFL starts. Perhaps the Bears have their running back of the future.

“He’s working his butt off every day,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “At some point, these guys got to get a little small victory along the way. These are just stepping stones for what he can be in their future here. I’m definitely proud of how far he’s progressed to this point. But I wouldn’t say surprised.”

What makes Howard unique is his ability to hit the hole. His instincts are off the charts for a rookie playing his first NFL games. Howard is able to quickly recognize his most efficient rushing gap and turn it up to the second level.

“He’s very natural in that respect,” Drayton said. “He knows when to shift his gears, he knows when to lower his pads, he knows when it’s time to play on contact. That’s something he’s brought to the table.”

The Bears have been struggling to find offensive continuity. In his first season as offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains hasn’t been able to establish the kind of consistent run-pass balance that’s desired for his schemes. Part of that blame falls on the search for steady play at quarterback. Consistently falling behind has forced plenty of passes, too.

As the offense searches for answers ahead, Howard can be counted on. He’s averaged 5.3 yards per carry and hasn’t slowed down.

“The more I play, I keep getting more and more confidence,” he said. “It keeps getting easier for me in a sense.”

Howard has made so much look easy in his rookie season. It’s a year in which team victories will be limited, but there have been some individual triumphs that offer hope for the Bears’ future — none greater than Howard.

He’s become the rock on which the Bears rely.

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