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Jordan Howard catching on in Philadelphia, expects to be used differently than in Chicago

“I feel like they’re allowing me to do more, show my game off more instead of just being one-dimensional like Chicago had me,” Howard said after practice Monday.

Eagles running back Jordan Howard is getting adjusted to his new offense during OTAs.
Eagles running back Jordan Howard is getting adjusted to his new offense during OTAs.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Jordan Howard arrived in Philadelphia as a former Pro Bowler with 48 games, 788 carries, and 1,876 offensive snaps over three seasons for the Eagles to evaluate. His 3,370 rushing yards in the regular season are the third most in the NFL during the span.

Forget what happened in Chicago. After two weeks of practicing in the Eagles’ offense, Howard believes he’ll look different in this system than what observers witnessed since he came into the NFL as a fifth-round pick in 2016.

“I feel like they’re allowing me to do more, show my game off more instead of just being one-dimensional like Chicago had me,” Howard said after practice Monday.

Howard was referring to catching the ball out of the backfield. He has 72 career receptions, and the volume declined in each of his three seasons. But Howard insisted that he can help in the passing game and that he didn’t in Chicago “because they had a [certain] view of me.” He’s tried to put in work behind the scenes, including catching “as many balls” as possible and working with tennis balls to improve hand-eye coordination.

It’s still too early to know whether the Eagles will throw the ball to Howard more than in Chicago, but it’s a part of Howard’s game that the Eagles have evaluated this spring.

“He’s caught the ball when we’ve thrown it to him, so that’s what I’m going to go [off] right now, his production with us,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “I think he’s worked hard at it and doesn’t fight the ball, and we just have to keep throwing him balls.”

It’s not just the passing game where Howard notices differences. He said there are more run concepts for him with the Eagles. He was mostly an inside zone runner in Chicago, but Howard said the Eagles “do a lot more in the run game.” He expects to be used in ways he hasn’t been featured before.

“I thought it was going to be similar to Chicago, but it’s a lot more diverse,” Howard said of the Eagles’ offense. “We do a lot more than Chicago does. So I’d definitely say it’s a lot different.”

Coach Doug Pederson and Chicago coach Matt Nagy both come from Andy Reid’s coaching tree, and the Bears were among the NFL’s most creative offenses last season, so some of the optimism might be because of the new scenery. But Howard left little doubt about his excitement about coming to Philadelphia, where he mentioned all the offensive firepower and added, “It’s going to be hard to stop us.”

When the Eagles acquired Howard, he appeared to be the unquestioned top running back. Barring injury, he’ll be the first-team running back to begin the season. But the depth chart changed since the March trade for Howard. The Eagles drafted Miles Sanders in the second round, and they didn’t make their most notable draft investment in the position in a decade to keep Sanders on the sideline.

Howard did not know if the Eagles would select a running back so high even though there had been ongoing speculation leading up to the draft and Howard is entering the final year of his contract. He views Sanders as more competition in the backfield and a player who could make the team better. He also thinks the two will complement each other and is not opposed to a shared backfield.

“I feel like I’m more of a power back, and he has power as well but he’s shifty, too,” Howard said. “We can definitely work off each other.”

Howard shares something in common with the Eagles’ recent draftees: he, too, has been a college student in recent years. Howard left the University of Indiana early in 2016 and he promised his mother he would earn his college degree. Howard spent his NFL offseasons taking online courses; the most challenging one was an independent study that required a 20-page paper merging sports, politics, and advertising. He graduated this spring with a degree in general studies.

When he wasn’t finishing his coursework, he was learning his new city. Howard was seen at Sixers games this spring. He played in Carson Wentz’s softball game on Friday. An Alabama native, Howard said he’s “been loving” immersing himself in Philadelphia after three years in Chicago.

Even though Howard is new in Philadelphia, he’s old for the Eagles’ running back room. Howard and Wendell Smallwood are fourth-year running backs, which makes him a veteran compared to the others. He’s learning a new offense and adjusting to a new city, but there’s no question who is the most experienced and accomplished running back on the roster.

“Remember, I’m still young: I’m only 24,” Howard said. “It feels a little weird.”