Jordan Howard knew when he re-signed here that his only chance to make the team was to set himself apart from the other backs on the roster.
And the only way he could do that was to demonstrate an ability to do things the other backs can’t do.
Like delivering crushing blocks.
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Why did Howard help his roster case Thursday night despite just one carry for three yards?
Because of plays like his blitz pickup on the Eagles’ first series that obliterated Steelers cornerback Robert Spillane.
Head coach Nick Sirianni mentioned the play Saturday without even being asked about it.
“One play that really … sticks out - Jordan Howard had a pickup on a third down where he just drilled the guy,” Sirianni said. “That was awesome to see. You love that intensity there.”
All these backs can run the football. It’s going to be things like blocking, receiving, special teams and blitz pickups that determine roster spots.
“My first guy, he stepped up, but I could tell he wasn’t coming, so I was looking to get after the next guy,” Howard said. “He got to me kind of fast, so I just tried to hit him as hard as I could. I didn’t think I was going to hit him that hard. I was glad I knocked him down before he knocked me down. Everybody was coming up and telling me it was such a good hit. I didn’t realize how hard I hit him until I saw the film.”
We wrote last week about how Howard’s strong training camp has sent the running back competition in an unexpected direction.
It may be as simple as Howard vs. Kerryon Johnson for a fourth spot on the 53-man roster behind Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell.
Johnson hasn’t had a bad camp, but even at his best he does the same sort of things as the other backs.
Howard showed Thursday night why he’s so different.
“As a young guy when you first get into the league, pass pro is probably the hardest for a running back,” Howard said. “Because in college you’re not really asked to block that much, so that’s the first thing you have to lock in on. If you want to play you’ve got to protect the quarterback, so I feel like my pass protection is growing each year I’ve been in the league but still trying to get better at it.”
Howard has transformed himself from a guy who couldn’t find a spot on anybody’s 53-man roster last fall after he was released by the Dolphins to a genuine candidate not just for a roster spot here but for playing time.
“I try to stick to my skills, just like everybody else tries to stick to their strengths,” he said. “I feel like I definitely run on the inside. I’m definitely a bigger guy so I feel like I can take hits a little better. I don’t have the speed those other guys have, so they can do a little bit more when they get to the outside. I try to just focus on what I’m good at.”
If Howard can pull this off, it will be one of the more surprising stories of the summer.
He feared his career was over just a few months ago coming off a serious neck injury that wiped out the second half of his 2019 season and then a disastrous 2020 season with the Dolphins.
Nobody wanted him, so he set out this past offseason to get back to the kind of shape he was in when he made a Pro Bowl and had two 1,000-yard seasons with the Bears.
“Last year I feel like things didn’t go my way,” he said. “A lot of that was myself. I had to look in the mirror in the offseason and see what I could work on.
“Last year offseason I was still coming back from injury so I kind of let that affect how I worked out. I put on weight and it was just hard getting it off and when I got it off I still wasn’t in the best shape. So I just had to buckle down in the offseason. It took me a while to get my strength back.
“I just knew if I came in the best shape that I could be in I would give myself a chance. I knew if I wasn’t in shape I wouldn’t really have a chance.”
Howard is only 26 and believes he has a ton of good football left.
If he keeps like he has been over the next few weeks, that football will be right here in Philadelphia.
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