The Eagles’ long wait for Jordan Howard’s return has ended after almost seven weeks. The 25-year-old running back was cleared for contact Thursday evening and returned to practice Friday.
Howard was sidelined after suffering a shoulder stinger against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 3 and has been a limited participant in practice since the team returned from its bye week on Nov. 13.
After the Bears game, Howard said he thought he’d be fine. Instead, he had to exercise patience as he missed games for the first time in his NFL career.
“It definitely surprised me,” Howard said Friday. “When it happened, I thought I was going to be right back for the next game. But after a while, it didn’t go away, so I figured it was going to be a little while.”
The Eagles’ running back situation has morphed in Howard’s absence. Rookie Miles Sanders has blossomed into a lead back, and Boston Scott has become a productive complementary player. Howard led the team in carries and rushing yards when he went down, but he’s now stepping in as a situational runner, deferring to Sanders for at least the team’s regular-season finale Sunday against the New York Giants.
Howard had 525 rushing yards and averaged 4.4 yards per carry before his injury. With Howard as the main guy, Sanders was averaging 37.3 rushing yards. Sanders has averaged 71 yards since Howard’s injury, and is coming off two games in which he gained more than 150 yards from scrimmage.
“I feel like [Sanders] was getting better each game even before I got hurt; he was getting better and better each game," Howard said. “Now, he’s showing his full talent; he’s getting comfortable with the game. ... I’m just trying to get in where I fit in. They got a good thing going right now.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Sanders’ and Scott’s production, coupled with Howard’s potential rust, have led to the decision to return Howard in a limited role.
“The challenge is we’ve been [game] planning with Miles and Boston,” Pederson said. “Jordan gives us, obviously, a third back, a situational guy. We understand who he is, but again, we mentioned yesterday as far as the conditioning and the game shape and being ready and all that. You just can’t give him a full complement of plays."
Howard said he’s been able to do some weight training, and he’s participated in the individual portions of practice for the last two months. But getting hit and moving at game speed are two things to which he’ll have to adjust.
“I know I haven’t been out there,” Howard said. “I know I’ve got to get back into the groove of things. So, I know I can’t just get back out there and have my regular workload and stuff like that. I know what’s going to happen, so I can’t be naive about that."
Sanders posted career highs in carries in consecutive weeks, with 19 attempts against Washington in Week 15 and 20 against the Cowboys on Sunday. Scott has played at least 25% of the team’s offensive snaps in each of the last three weeks.
“We don’t want to necessarily disrupt what we’ve got going, but he [Howard] is a big piece, obviously, to our offense," Pederson said.