RB Jeremy Langford ready to assume bigger role for Bears
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) Jeremy Langford had a pretty good tutor to follow last year in Matt Forte. Now he has a big opportunity for the Chicago Bears.
Langford came to camp as the front-runner in a stiff competition to replace one of the most successful running backs in franchise history after showing some promise as a rookie last season.
''Mentally, I feel like I'm ready to go,'' he said Friday. ''But football, it's all a process. It's only the second day of camp and we've been off for a long time. As the camp goes, I will feel a lot better and a lot more confident in knowing the playbook in and out.''
The Bears are trying to make a jump after finishing last in the NFC North in their first season under coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace. They rebuilt their defense and reworked their offensive line. But they also lost two of their most productive players on offense when they traded outspoken tight end Martellus Bennett and decided not to re-sign Forte.
The two-time Pro Bowl running back is second in franchise history to Hall of Famer Walter Payton in yards rushing (8,602), receptions (487), yards from scrimmage (12,718), 100-yard rushing games (24) and games with 150 yards or more from scrimmage (25). He was also one of the more popular players in the locker room, someone teammates could turn to for advice about everything from training to football to parenting.
But the Bears had a long list of areas to address. They wanted to get younger and they believed they could replace Forte.
Langford showed glimpses as a rookie last season that he was capable of handling a heavier load, finishing with 537 yards rushing and 279 receiving while forging his way into the rotation.
He was particularly effective in back-to-back wins at San Diego and St. Louis midway through the season while Forte was injured. His 72 yards rushing and 70 receiving against the Chargers turned a few heads and he didn't let up the following week against the Rams. He had an 83-yard touchdown catch and finished with 109 yards receiving to go with 73 yards rushing and a touchdown.
''I think I can play all three downs,'' Langford said. ''That's what I want to do and prove - that I am capable of that. But there's a lot of guys in the room that can do it as well.''
The Bears plan to use a rush-by-committee approach with Langford, Ka'Deem Carey, Jacquizz Rodgers and fifth-round pick Jordan Howard in order to keep their running backs fresh and take advantage of an opportunity when one of them is playing well.
''I'd like them all to stand out,'' Fox said. ''That's why we build competition. That's why we're here at camp. Not just at the running back position, that would include every position on our football team.''
Langford sounds determined to show he can be the No. 1 running back, a spot Forte held for eight years. He has worked on becoming a better receiver after the coaches called on him to do just that. He bulked up, adding a few extra pounds, in an effort to handle a greater load and gain a few more yards after being hit.
What separates Langford at the moment is his speed and there could be opportunities playing behind what the Bears believe is a more athletic line, particularly on the right side. They moved three-time Pro Bowl pick Kyle Long back to right guard after he filled in at right tackle and brought in veteran right tackle Bobby Massie.
The expectations are higher now - for the Bears and Langford.
''I welcome them, especially playing in Chicago,'' he said. ''They love the Bears.''
NOTES: Fox would not say how much time Long is expected to sit out because of a strained left calf or confirm if he had an MRI. Long missed Friday's practice after he came up hobbling the previous day. Long posted this message on Twitter on Thursday: ''I'm gonna be fine y'all. I appreciate the kind words and well wishes. Minor speed bump.'' ... LB Leonard Floyd (illness), TE Khari Lee (shoulder), OL Nick Becton (illness) and LB Roy Robertson-Harris (illness) missed Friday's practice.
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