With the Bears off this week, their position coaches spoke to the media for the first time since training camp. Here are six things we learned from the offensive assistants:
(1) Running backs coach Stay Drayton isn't surprised by Jordan Howard's success because of the rookie's work ethic and thinks Howard will only get better.
A fifth-round pick from Indiana, Howard was voted the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a career-high 153 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries and catching four passes for 49 yards in last Monday night's win over the Vikings.
Jordan Howard was voted the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after his performance in last Monday night's win over the Vikings.
"He's working his butt off every day," Drayton said. "At some point these guys have got to get a little small victory along the way and I think these are just stepping stones for him as to what he can be in the near future here. I'm definitely proud of how far he's progressed at this point. But I wouldn't say I'm surprised. He showed this type of production coming out of college. He doesn't flinch on the big stage, so I'm excited for him."
(2) The Bears like to employ a backfield-by-committee, but Howard has clearly assumed the top spot on the depth chart and will continue to receive the bulk of the carries if he keeps excelling.
Jeremy Langford returned against the Vikings after missing four games with an ankle injury and touched the ball only once—catching a pass for 11 yards. Ka'Deem Carey, who has been battling a hamstring injury, had two carries for three yards versus Minnesota.
"The beauty of having a committee like that is that competition is always the major component," Drayton said. "So every day they're bringing it. You're getting the best out of them for the most part every single day. They all know, though, that whoever gets the hot [hand]—and I'm able to see that very early in the course of the game—I'll keep in the game. I won't take you out when you're hot. I don't do that, for the sake of putting another back in."
(3) Receivers coach Curtis Johnson has been impressed with receiver Alshon Jeffery's all-around ability, especially when it comes to catching "50/50" jump balls.
Jeffery displayed those skills against the Vikings when he outleaped cornerback Xavier Rhodes to haul in a 34-yard pass from Jay Cutler. Jeffery has 36 receptions for a team-leading 583 yards and one touchdown this season.
"He's the best high-ball-catching player that I've ever been around," Johnson said. "He's an extremely hard worker. I like him a lot, really good athlete, better athleticism than I thought he had. Just a great catching radius, can body-up guys, can go up and pluck the ball out of the air. I hadn't been around a guy that could do those types of things."
(4) Johnson felt that second-year receiver Kevin White was just starting to come into his own when he suffered a fractured fibula and sprained ankle in a Week 4 win over the Lions.
"It was difficult because if you remember he was on the cusp of being pretty good," Johnson said. "He began to run the routes right, he started to understand our offense. I thought he was getting really accustomed to Jay and then Brian [Hoyer]. He was just starting to feel his groove … It was tough for him to go down and I can't wait to get him back."
White was placed on injured reserve but could return to action this year because NFL teams are permitted to reinstate one player from injured reserve to the active roster.
Asked about the possibility of seeing White play again this year, Johnson said: "I definitely think we will just because of how the kid is and how determined he is. You watch guys get carted off the field. He just limped off and he thought he was getting back in the game. He's one of those guys that wants to play and he loves to play the game. He's a team guy and he doesn't want to let his teammates down."
(5) Offensive line coach Dave Magazu is very pleased with how rookie center Cody Whitehair has adapted to a brand new position.
The second-round pick never played center at Kansas State, and he wasn't switched there until after the Bears signed left guard Josh Sitton a week before the regular season opener after the three-time Pro Bowler was released by the Packers in a surprise move.
Asked to name a lineman who has impressed him, Magazu said: "The first guy is obvious; it's Cody. Being a rookie and then spending all his time in camp and all that playing guard and then making that transition to center, every day is a new learning experience for him and he just keeps gathering information and putting it in the bank and it's going to pay off."
(6) Magazu likes another young lineman who has quietly done a good job in left tackle Charles Leno Jr., a third-year pro was selected by the Bears in the seventh round of the 2014 draft out of Boise State.
"He comes in with a great workman attitude," Magazu said. "He brings his lunch pail every day, doesn't complain, just goes out and tries to improve his own technical aspects of his game and continues to work on the details and he does that every single day. He always has a plan, he's always prepared and I've been happy with his work ethic."