East Lansing — In less than a year, former Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford went from a fourth-round pick to the man expected to replace Matt Forte, who is second behind only Walter Payton in rushing in the Bears franchise history.
With Forte signing with the New York Jets this offseason, Langford is currently the top back on Chicago’s depth chart, and in accumulating 816 yards from scrimmage as a rookie, Langford showed an ability to be the Bears’ lead back.
And even though Langford will have a chance to replace Forte, he said he doesn’t feel any extra pressure looking ahead to his second NFL season.
“There was pressure when I was playing last year,” he said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but at the same time I think we’ve got a great offensive game plan with (quarterback Jay) Cutler coming back and the offensive line being stronger.”
Langford was one of several former Spartans who attended Michigan State’s pro day on Wednesday. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard, wide receiver Tony Lippett, safety Isaiah Lewis and linebackers Greg Jones and Taiwan Jones were among the alumni who supported their former teammates in front of scouts from all 32 NFL teams.
Langford was in this position a year ago, trying to impress scouts before the draft. Still, he fell to the fourth round behind eight other running backs.
“Me going in that fourth round, it really helped me stay hungry and continue to compete against the guys that went ahead of me, and it’s the same thing I’m going to do next year,” Langford said.
As a rookie, Langford had to wait for his opportunities playing behind the veteran Forte, but when Forte dealt with an injury during the middle of the year, Langford suddenly became a featured part of the Bears offense, posting back-to-back games with 70-plus yards rushing and receiving.
Starting in Week 8, Langford had nine straight games with at least 11 carries. At 3.6 yards per carry, he still has work to do, but he did enough to convince the Bears not to spend money re-signing Forte.
Fortunately, Langford had a chance to learn from Forte last year, noting the veteran’s work ethic and professionalism. Even though he was a backup, Langford said he prepared like a starter as soon as he got to Chicago.
Michigan State football players go through drills for NFL scouts in East Lansing.
And with Forte gone, Langford said 1,000 rushing yards is a “realistic” benchmark in 2016.
“I’ve definitely got big shoes to fill,” he said.
Jack Conklin still can’t believe it as he nears the draft.
“Four years ago I had no idea where I was going to be,” the Michigan State left tackle said. “Now I have a chance to be a first-round pick. That’s crazy.”
Conklin, a former walk-on, is ranked No. 10 on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s “Big Board”.
He said the response from teams has been mixed — he had 24 formal interviews at the Combine and has had informal conversations with the others.
“Quite a few teams said, ‘Hey, we think you can play left tackle,’” he said. “Other teams say, ‘You can play anywhere on the line.’ With me, it doesn’t matter. Obviously, I want to play left tackle, but if a team needs me to play right guard, I’ll step in and play right guard.”
Michigan State center Jack Allen picked up his helmet and dropped by his locker. His younger brother, Matt, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound offensive lineman who will be a Spartans freshman, made sure to protect his turf.
“We had to go to my locker and my brother Matt says, ‘Hey, hey, be careful with my locker,’” Jack Allen said. “He’s taking (his jersey number) 66 and he’s taking my locker, so it’s pretty cool.”
Jack Allen was asked if his Matt has a lot to live up to wearing his number.
“Not much,” he said. “I’ve got confidence in him he’ll surpass me.”