Eagles running back Jordan Howard wasn’t mincing any words when discussing his third and final season in Chicago. Acquired from the Bears in the offseason, Howard is expected to see considerable action out of the backfield, at least on first down.
For Howard, now in the final season of his rookie contract, he looks at his new situation as a definite proving ground.
“I am looking to re-establish myself,” Howard said after Sunday’s open practice at Lincoln Financial Field, which drew an estimated crowd of 40,000. “I fell off last year and want to get back to the consistent player I have been in the past.”
For falling off, it wasn’t the worst of seasons. Howard rushed for 935 yards and nine touchdowns for a Bears team that lost to the Eagles, 16-15, in the wild-card playoff round.
Then again, a more telling statistic was that Howard averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, down from 5.2 and 4.1 his first two seasons.
“I didn’t have a good yards-per-carry average and I felt I didn’t break as many tackles as I usually break,” said Howard, who was acquired for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2020.
While last season was difficult, Howard’s entire body of work can’t be discounted, especially since he doesn’t turn 25 until November.
Even if last year is included, Howard is one of only three running backs to rush for more than 3,000 yards since 2016. His total of 3,370 is behind only the Rams’ Todd Gurley (3,441) and the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott (4,048).
Howard earned a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie and became the first Bear to rush for 1,000 or more yards in each of his first two seasons. Even Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Gale Sayers didn’t accomplish that.
A fifth-round draft choice from Indiana in 2016, the 6-foot, 224-pound Howard said the adjustment to his new team have gone well.
“I have been here since April, getting along with the guys, and the offense is pretty easy to pick up because it is similar to what we did in Chicago,” he said.
While Howard is expected to be the first-down back, the competition for playing time could be fierce. One reason is the emergence of rookie second-round pick Miles Sanders, who is enjoying an impressive training camp.
If healthy, the Eagles should have a deep group of running backs.
“We have so much talent in the running back room and everybody is pushing each other to be a better player,” Howard said.
One reason that Howard is considered a first-down back is that his receiving has been highly criticized. In his first three seasons, he has 72 receptions for 568 yards and a touchdown.
“I am sick of hearing that I can’t catch the ball,” Howard said. “I can’t control what people say, so I try not to worry about those things. I know the work I put in will make me better.”
On Monday, Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh defended not only Howard’s pass-catching ability, but another aspect of his game.
“He's done a really nice job, both in catching the ball and in the protection,” Groh said. “He's been all over his protections, done a really good job of that, been sound and firm in protection, allowing our quarterbacks to be able to step up in the pocket and make the throws down the field and when we throw it to him, we think he's done a nice job of catching it.”
Still, the Eagles have plenty of players who can catch the ball. They would like to improve their ground game, after finishing 30th in yards per carry (3.9) and 28th in yards per game (98.1).