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Emma: Competition Will Be Steady In Bears' Backfield

By Chris Emma--

(CBS) During his rookie season of 2015, Bears running back Jeremy Langford proved he can run inside and out, bringing good hands and the ability to block to the backfield as well.

Langford earned the Bears' trust by rushing for 537 yards and six touchdowns, playing a key role when Matt Forte suffered an MCL sprain. This offseason, the Bears allowed the 30-year-old Forte to walk in free agency, believing in their backfield that's headed by Langford.

In his second offseason as Bears general manager, Ryan Pace pursued Broncos running back C.J. Anderson in free agency, then dispatched his front office to conduct thorough evaluations on the possibility of drafting Ohio State standout Ezekiel Elliott. The Bears did so knowing that Langford is still an unproven commodity and that they were one injury to him away from facing a problem in the backfield.

The Bears believe in Langford as their feature back, and they like what Ka'Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers bring behind him, but they also wanted to add more. When opportunity finally matched up with their desire, they selected Indiana standout Jordan Howard in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, adding another backfield complement.

"I'm just going to come in and prove that I can play and do whatever it takes to help the team out -- play special teams, whatever," Howard said after being selected by the Bears.

Halas Hall hosts the Bears' rookie mini-camp this weekend, where some important competitions will soon begin. Pace is reconstructing a roster that once lacked depth at nearly every position but now has some important positional battles looming, including a high-profile one in the backfield.

No jobs are set in stone for Bears running backs -- not Langford's after a productive 2015 season, not Carey's after showing comfort in short-yardage situations, not Rodgers' despite his experience. Howard enters the weekend with the chance to begin making impressions with his new coaching staff.

The Bears were careful in solidifying their running back depth this offseason. By looking to sign Anderson and evaluating Elliott -- touted as a Rookie of the Year favorite already -- the team wasn't showing any lack of confidence in Langford or its other backs. The Bears were simply creating the kind of versatility that coach John Fox desires on his depth chart.

When Fox led the Broncos to Super Bowl SLVIII in 2014, he had a depth chart that included four backs: Anderson, Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno. During that 13-3 season, Moreno touched the ball 241 times and tallied 10 touchdowns, while Ball backed up with 120 carries and Hillman followed up with 55. Anderson was 22 years old and soon became a high-profile name.

Tracing back even further, Fox's 2003 Panthers that reached the Super Bowl featured Stephan Davis as the primary ball-carrier, largely due to a lack of depth behind. As the league has evolved, Fox now approaches it differently.

The Bears' backfield features Langford's versatility, Carey's hard-nosed abilities and Rodgers' shiftiness. What does Howard add?

"This guy is a downhill, physical, north/south runner," Pace said. "I just like the style and physicality that he plays with as well. I think he complements our other backs very well, (the) type of running back that can just wear down the defense (with) a very physical nature."

Added Howard: "I feel like I'm a grinder. I can get those tough yards."

Competition will be fierce in the Bears' backfield. Langford projects to receive the majority of carries, though Howard hopes to have a say in that. If Howard is pressed into a short-yardage role, that makes Carey expendable. Rodgers should stick due to his abilities on special teams, though the Bears still have Senorise Perry, who hasn't ever carried the ball in a regular-season game but plays an important role in special teams.

It became imperative for the Bears this offseason to add to their backfield. They were fine moving on without Forte, feeling his best days were in the past and that their new direction should take priority. Now, Chicago moves forward with some new options.

Howard's the final piece to what the Bears hope is a dynamic backfield, completing months of work to evaluate their options. Langford will be challenged for the top spot, while Carey and Rodgers have something more to prove.

Welcome Howard, a new staple to the stable of versatility.

"I feel like my size benefits me pretty well because guys, a lot of times guys won't want to tackle me," he said. "A lot of times, especially after a long game of just been pounding, they'll just start dabbing and won't look and I can avoid them. I think it works very well for me."

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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