Before signing in Chicago a month ago, most Bears fans were probably most familiar with Jaye Howard for the baptism he gave center Hroniss Grasu in his first NFL start.
It was October 11, 2015, at Arrowhead Stadium when a big, heavy Chiefs defensive front paired with their talented linebacking corps to give the rookie all he could handle in the chaos and noise of Kansas City's home field. Grasu was in the middle of it, one week after Will Montgomery's season-ending leg injury. Howard released off the snap with the the Bears offense backed up near its own goal line, pulled off a stunt to confuse and occupy Grasu, and crushed Jay Cutler in the end zone for a sack, knocking the ball loose for Ramik Wilson to pounce on it for an early Chiefs touchdown.
"Oh not yet," Howard chuckled when asked Tuesday whether he's brought that memory, or nightmare, up with Grasu. "That's past me and I'm with these guys now. That's old and I'm just looking to make some big plays here."
His new teammates and coaches hope so. He made his share in four seasons in Kansas City, starting 23 games in 2014 and 2015, the latter registering 5.5 sacks, including the one against the Bears. But after signing a lucrative two year deal a year and a half ago, he missed the last half of 2016 following hip surgery.
"Bone spurs. It was just one of those things where I just woke up and was walking funny," Howard said. "It was hard to play through and eventually it was just time to shut it down."
And with the Chiefs having difficulty maneuvering a salary cap crunch, he was let go as they were preparing for the NFL draft. Technically, they announced Howard failed a physical, but it was strictly about money. He visited the Bears and a couple of other teams, actually leaving Halas Hall after his original visit without a contract. He then came back and signed a couple days later.
"There were other possibilities but I ended up staying (in town) after I left to just clear my mind, prayed about it and felt like this was the best opportunity for me," he said. "To come in, be able to contribute and be wanted, that was the opportunity that was presented and I couldn't pass on it. I'm embracing this opportunity."
The Bears' long list of "ifs" on the health front includes a potentially solid combination in the 3-4 base defense - if Akiem Hicks, if Eddie Goldman, and if Howard himself can stay together most of the season.
"I'm definitely coming out here with a chip on my shoulder," said Howard, who's been doing individual work during OTAs but is expected to be full-go physically when training camp begins. "Me and Hicks are already pushing each other. We're looking to have a big year and hopefully we can stay here together. Just watching him on film last year and what Jay Rodgers was able to do with him (career-high seven sacks), I'm hoping I can take my game to that next level as well."
He was part of a Chiefs defense in those 2014 and 2015 seasons that ranked seventh overall both years, playing with the likes of Dontari Poe, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Allen Bailey and an outstanding secondary. He hopes to contribute to similar success here under Vic Fangio, with a little luck on the health front.
"It's a good group of guys all around, us and the linebackers, and our guys in the secondary are stepping up. I really see that we can be a good front."