Rookie running back Jordan Howard and center Cody Whitehair had breakout seasons for the Bears in 2016, and that’s at least two reasons for optimism heading into this season.
Howard, for example, has already set himself up with high expectations, but it’s evident that he’s doing more than trying to talk it into existence. Patrick Finley writes about how the Pro Bowl running back is fine-tuning his game to get the most out of his second season in the NFL.
It would have been easy for Howard to rest on his laurels after rushing for a team rookie record 1,313 yards after starting the year as a third-string back. Instead, Finley reports that Howard used the offseason to focus on rounding out his game.
Howard set out on improving his acceleration, which could pay dividends for a player who already had a high percentage of yards come on breakaway yards He also had laser surgery with an eye on improving his vision (and hopefully, his pass catching), and trimmed his body fat to 13 percent when the team offered up the idea of using a meal delivery service for dinner.
On the field, he’s working on his pass protection, one of few the facets in his game that could use is the most improvement. If it all pans out, Howard could transform from a fifth-round pick, who was an afterthought at this time just one year ago, to a well-rounded three-down back. Yeah.
That’s one heck of a goal to put out there, seeing that Whitehair hadn’t played center until last season. The transition turned out to be a smooth one, as Whitehair put together one of the best seasons for a Bears offensive lineman in quite some time. The second-year center out of Kansas State could be in line for another breakout season, which could lead to some of his teammates having breakout campaigns of their own.
Whitehair has shown a strong work ethic in preparing for this season, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coaches.
“If you take five weeks off, you’re going to come back rusty,” Whitehair told Biggs. “If you can just keep your footwork down via drills, there are a ton of things you can do. Just to keep it fresh in your mind.”
Howard and Whitehair are arguably the two most important pieces in what are believed to be the team’s two biggest strengths – the running game and the interior of the offensive line. If BOTH players are better than the All-Rookie Team form they showed last season, it could go along way toward the 2017 Bears exceeding some admittedly low expectations.