There were times, running back Jordan Howard admits, when he confronted reality. No feet stomping. No whining. Just hard-cold facts: He was on the Eagles' practice squad, and no matter how much he felt he deserved to be on the 53-man roster, whether it was in Philadelphia or anywhere in the NFL, he had to look at what was in front of him.
It wasn't an easy time in his life, those first seven weeks of this 2021 regular season. After a stellar offseason – "I had a great offseason. Probably my best offseason so far," he said – during which Howard lost nine pounds, fully recovered from a shoulder injury that first cropped up in 2019, and translated that hard work into a strong Training Camp and preseason, Howard wasn't among those to make the active roster heading into the season. It was a painful experience.
"It was very challenging," Howard said on Friday at the NovaCare Complex. "I had some good days and I had a lot of bad days. I have to thank everybody in my inner circle who encouraged me to keep going even when things weren't looking good for me. I'm thankful for that. Going into Training Camp, I told myself, 'If I don't make the team it wouldn't be because I didn't do well, it would be because of the numbers game or whatever.' I felt like I put in the work. Things didn't go my way, but that's life. Things aren't always going to go your way. You're always going to have adversity.
"It's just how you respond to it."
Things are looking so much better for Howard, who has gained 144 yards and scored three touchdowns on 29 carries since the Eagles promoted him from the practice squad for gamedays in Detroit and against the Los Angeles Chargers. He was officially added to the 53-man roster earlier this week and will share time on Sunday in Denver with Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell against the Broncos. Miles Sanders remains on the Injured Reserve list for a third straight game.
Howard has run with great power and conviction in his time on the field this season. He believes he is a better player now than at any time in his career from the standpoint of knowledge, the ability to read defenses, pass protection, and being a productive receiver. The 225-pounder has moved the chains and found the end zone as he's run over and through and, at times, around defensive players. A Pro Bowl player with Chicago as a rookie in 2016 when he ran for 1,313 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry, the first of two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Howard was acquired by the Eagles prior to the 2019 season and had a terrific first nine games of that campaign as he powered his way to 525 yards and six touchdowns. Howard added 10 receptions and a touchdown and teamed nicely with Sanders in the backfield.
But he suffered a shoulder injury and the recovery process kept Howard sidelined for the remainder of the season. Howard then signed with Miami as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and things just didn't work out there as Howard carried 28 times for 33 yards in five games before being released. He returned to the Eagles later in the 2020 season and contributed seven carries and 27 yards.
After re-signing with the Eagles in the offseason, Howard acknowledged that he considered retiring from the NFL. He had received little interest in free agency and that was a disappointment. The Eagles gave him a chance – "my last chance," Howard said – and Howard has been at his best.
Now he's showing it in regular-season action.
"I'm just happy to be out here playing," he said. "You never know when you're going to get your opportunity or when your last opportunity is going to be, so I'm just grateful for it all. What I did in the past really doesn't matter because this is a 'what-have-you-done-for-me-lately' league, so you've just got to focus on the task at hand. None of my past accomplishments really matter, so you keep pushing forward."