By Chris Emma—

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – The reality by which running back Jeremy Langford earned his place two years ago is now the lingering threat to his future with the Bears.

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In 2015, Langford emerged as the steady rookie rusher who made Matt Forte expendable afterward in a contract year. In 2016, he then watched from the sidelines as Jordan Howard set a Bears rookie rushing record. Now, it’s electrifying rookie Tarik Cohen who seems determined for a key role in the Bears’ backfield.

Where does that leave Langford? For now, he’s playing catchup after missing nearly three weeks with another ankle sprain.

“I count the blessings,” Langford said Wednesday after his first practice back. “It’s good to be back out there on the field with my pads on, with my teammates again.”

There are no guarantees for Langford entering his third season. The Bears have Howard as their starter at running back and a mix on the depth chart that includes Langford, Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Ka’Deem Carey. The team could go with four running backs, though two fullbacks in Michael Burton and Freddie Stevenson are also competing for a spot on the roster.

Langford saw his role minimized after suffering the high ankle sprain in Week 3 of last season. He played in 12 contests but had just 62 rushes for 200 yards and four scores, that after rushing 148 times for 537 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.

What could Langford’s role be this season? His best-case scenario for now is becoming the backup to Howard while standing by for carries. But that will be a tough task earning the job.

“That’s been a little bit frustrating getting (Langford) banged up early, but he’s making good progress,” Bears coach John Fox said. “The addition of Benny Cunningham, obviously Tarik Cohen has been a good addition, last year with the year Jordan had, I think we’ve got a pretty good solid group from the running game standpoint.”

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Competition will be fluid at the running back position. Howard and Cohen are safe in their places, but the rest of the depth chart is up for grabs. Special teams roles could decide who makes the 53-man roster, with an edge to Cunningham and Carey.

Ultimately, the greatest threat to Langford is Cohen, the fourth-round pick who emerged as a complement to Howard during the weeks in camp without Langford. He stands at just 5-foot-6 but maneuvers will through traffic and has a knack for finding the edge with speed.

Cohen is a relentless runner and adds an element to the backfield.

“I feel like it’s my will to want to be better and to want to be a good player for my team,” Cohen said. “I’m not going to let anything stop me, any obstacle. I’m going to try to overcome that.”

All Langford can control now is his own performance. He can earn a place with the Bears’ roster by staying healthy and stacking together good practices. Belief remains in Langford, who earned the trust of the Bears brass as a rookie.

But it will be a long trek uphill for Langford in just a short span of time.

“My main thing is getting back to 100 percent and being the player that I am and can be,” he said. “And the rest will take care of itself.”

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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.