Know Your Bears — The running backs


Second in a position-by-position series of training-camp capsules on every player on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The Bears open training camp on July 27 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

24   JORDAN HOWARD

Running back      Second year

6-1, 222                 Indiana

Jordan Howard was second in the NFL in rushing with 1,313 yards (5.2 avg.) as a rookie last season. The fifth-round pick from Indiana scored six touchdowns. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Acquired: Fifth-round draft pick (150th overall) in 2016. 

Age: 22

NFL experience: 15 games (13 starts) in one season.

Background: Pegged as an under-drafted player when the Bears took him in the fifth round out of Indiana, Howard was a revelation as a rookie. Though he didn’t play until Week 2 and didn’t start until Week 4, he was second in the NFL in rushing with 1,313 yards (5.2 average, with six touchdowns). He has seven 100-yard games, including 153 yards against the Vikings and three touchdowns in a victory over the 49ers.

Notable: Howard averaged 4.5 yards per carry or more in eight of his last nine games last season. The only time he did not — 3.7 vs. the 49ers — he still rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 29 receptions for 298 yards and a touchdown last season.

The skinny: Howard figures to be as close to a sure thing as the Bears have on offense, but that’s part of the challenge he faces in his second season. With Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery gone, Howard also is the biggest threat the Bears have and will be a marked man. The offensive line should be improved, but Howard won’t be able to do it alone.

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25    Ka’DEEM CAREY

Running back      Fourth year

5-10, 215               Arizona

Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick (117th overall) in 2014.

Age: 24

NFL experience: 36 games (one start) in three seasons.

Background: Carey has been the ultimate intermittent back-up in three seasons with the Bears, with double-digit carries just three times in 36 games. He was a back-up to Matt Forte in 2014 (36-158, 4.4, 0 TDs), to Forte and Jeremy Langford in 2015 (43-159, 3.7, 2) and to Jordan Howard and Langford in 2016 (32-126, 3.9, 0). In his only start, against the Chargers in 2015, he had seven carries for 28 yards.

Notable: Carey had just nine carries for 19 yards (2.1 avg.) with a long rush of six yards in the final nine games last season. He was inactive for the final two games against the Redskins and Vikings.

The skinny: With the addition of rookie Tarik Cohen and kick returner Benny Cunningham, Carey faces an uphill battle with Jeremy Langford and perhaps Cunningham for a roster spot. He’s versatile and dependable and made progress on special teams last year. But, as a Phil Emery era draftee, he might need a break to make it.

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26    BENNY CUNNINGHAM

Running back      Fifth season

5-10, 217               Middle Tennessee State

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 27

NFL experience: 57 games (three starts) in four seasons.

Background: Signed by the  Rams as an undrafted free agent, Cunningham was mostly effective as a kickoff returner in four seasons with the Rams. He was third in the NFL in 2016 (27.2, long of 61 yards); fourth in 2015 (28.6, 102) and fifth in 2014 (27.5, 75). As a running back, Cunningham rushed for four touchdowns in his first two seasons, but had just 21 carries for 101 yards and no touchdowns and 16 receptions for 91 yards with the Rams last season.

Notable: Though he had kickoff returns of 102, 75 and 61 yards with the Rams, Cunningham did not return any of his 95 career kickoffs for a touchdown.

The skinny: Signed to a one-year, $855,000 contract, Cunningham is an easy roll of the dice in the Bears’ search for an effective kickoff returner. He figures to battle Deonte Thompson for that job, though others likely will get a shot.

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29    TARIK COHEN

Running back      Rookie

5-6, 179                 North Carolina A&T

Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick (119th overall) in 2017.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: Lightly recruited out of Bunn (N.C.) High School because of his diminutive size (despite running a 4.4 40), Cohen became a prolific rusher at FCS North Carolina A&T — 5,619 yards, 56 touchdowns, 122 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry in four seasons. Rushed for 1,543 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior; 1,588 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior.

Notable: Besides rushing for 1,588 yards as a senior, Cohen also caught 37 passes for 339 yards (9.2 avg.) and a touchdown. His hands measured 10 1/8 inches at the Combine.

The skinny: It’s a huge jump for the 5-6 Cohen to go from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to the NFL, but his unique skillset and determination give him a chance. The Bears see him as a prototypical third-down threat. It’s up to the Bears to put him in situations to succeed — and coach him up on pass protection — to get the most out of Cohen.

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33    JEREMY LANGFORD

Running back      Third season

6-0, 211                 Michigan State

Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick (106th overall) in 2015.

Age: 25

NFL experience: 28 games (five starts) in two seasons.

Background: After a slow start as a rookie, established himself as a legitimate replacement for Matt Forte when he rushed for 537 yards (3.6 avg.) and six touchdowns — including a stellar performance vs. the Rams when he rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown and turned a screen pass into an 83-yard touchdown in a 37-13 victory. Struggled to build on that early in 2016, was less effective in the passing game, then was passed by rookie Jordan Howard while missing four games with a high ankle sprain. Finished the year with 62 rushes for 200 yards (3.2 avg.) and four touchdowns.

Notable: After returning from the injury, Langford had 31 carries for 84 yards (2.7 avg.) and two touchdowns in the final nine games — with just one run longer than six yards.

The skinny: With rookie Tarik Cohen expected to be the change-of-pace and third-down back, there is not a lot of room for back-up who doesn’t contribute much on special teams, so Langford enters the 2017 season on the bubble. He’s still a quality runner, but he has little margin for error.

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37    JOEL BOUAGNON

Running back      Rookie

6-2, 228                Northern Illinois

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: Aurora Christian product was a three-year starter at Northern Illinois, where he rushed for 2,912 yards (4.9 avg.) and 31 touchdowns. Was a first-team all-MAC selection as a junior in 2015 when he rushed for 1,286 yards (4.5 avg.) and 18 touchdowns. Rushed for 885 yards (4.9 avg.) and eight touchdowns last season.

Notable: Bouagnon only had 20 or more carries three times at Northern last year — he rushed for 153, 134 and 133 yards with eight touchdowns in those games against Ball State, Bowling Green and Kent State.

The skinny: More of a downhill, short-yardage, blocking back, Bouagnon has a chance to find a niche role on the Bears, but more than ikely his best bet will be on the practice squad.

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43    FREDDIE STEVENSON

Fullback      Rookie

6-0, 234      Florida State

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: A star linebacker in high school, Stevenson was used mostly as a blocking back for star running back Dalvin Cook at Florida State. He had just 25 rushes for 132 yards (5.3 avg.) in 30 career games. He usually  made his runs count. Against Florida last season, Stevenson scored on a 27-yard run on his only carry to give the Seminoles a 24-6 lead en route to a 31-13 victory. He had 13 carries for 90 yards (6.9 avg.) and four of his five career rushing touchdowns as a senior.

Notable: Stevenson is known for his intangibles — a selfless, mature team player who graduated in four years and was a team captain.

The skinny: The challenge for Stevenson is not only to prove he can be productive at the NFL level, but that the Bears need a niche player like him. From offense to special teams to the locker room he has a knack for being useful and valuable, but his best hope at this point appears to be a practice squad spot.

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46    MICHAEL BURTON

Fullback       Third season

6-0, 247       Rutgers

Acquired: Claimed off waivers on May 31, one day after he was cut by the Lions.

Age: 25

NFL experience: 31 games (seven starts) in two seasons.

Background: A fifth-round draft pick (168th overall) by the Lions in 2015, Burton played in all 16 games and started seven as a rookie as an effective blocking back. He had four carries for two yards and six receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown. His role diminished in 2016 (95 total snaps) as the Lions de-emphasized the fullback in their offense. Burton still was effective on special teams. But he was inactive for the final two regular-season games and the Lions playoff game against the Seahawks.

Notable: Pro Football Focus rated Burton the third-best bullback in the NFL in 2015.

The skinny: Burton has experience and is an effective blocker, which could be particularly valuable in a developing offense with many new pieces. But it remains to be seen just how much the Bears need a fullback and he’ll also have competition from rookie Freddie Stevenson. Special teams production will be key for Burton.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com



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