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Bears could boast running back by committee in 2023: ‘There’s going to be no drop-off’

1 year agoChris Emma

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Over the course of four years with the Bears, David Montgomery earned the admiration of his team by the way he carried the football – and more so, how he carried himself.

The Bears now recognize the void at running back without Montgomery, who elected to depart this offseason and sign a three-year deal with the Lions in free agency. This season, the Bears could employ a backfield committee led by third-year back Khalil Herbert, veteran free-agent signing D’Onta Foreman and rookie Roschon Johnson.

During the course of this offseason program, the Bears split reps at running back equally with hopes of seeing who could emerge.

“It’s great, it’s always about competition between those guys,” Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said of the backfield trio. “Running back position is a big spot.

“It’s a balance. You got to be able to feel it out, look at the skill and assess that, what they’re good at, and put those guys in position to do those jobs.”

Last season, the Bears marked a new franchise rushing record with 3,014 yards on the ground. Despite finishing with a 3-14 record and the No. 1 overall pick in 2022, Chicago led the NFL in rushing. The running game became the clear identity of this offense led by quarterback Justin Fields, who ran for 1,143 yards and 8 touchdowns. 

As Fields looks to open up the Bears’ passing game in 2023, their rushing attack must remain a great strength and offer balance offensively. 

The 25-year-old Herbert is likely to enter the season carrying the largest workload in the Bears’ backfield. Herbert has impressed with his opportunities over the last two seasons as the backup and complement to Montgomery, rushing 232 times for 1,164 yards and 6 scores. Herbert has averaged an even 5 yards per carry and last season managed 3.1 yards before contact.

But the Bears didn’t simply anoint Herbert as their new starter at running back following the departure of Montgomery. He’s embracing the newcomers in the backfield and the idea of earning his role.

“I’m just approaching it as calm,” Herbert said. “Every day, you got to compete. You got to compete. And I come in with the mindset, obviously, that I want to be the starter.”

What Herbert has proven to the Bears through these past two years – even in just a limited role – is that he capable of breaking a big play any time he touches the football.

“He can really do a great job of hitting the home run,” Eberflus said. “He’s got great vision. He’s got great cut-back ability. He can take the ball outside and bounce it outside, but he’s really good at cutting it back when it’s there. We’re excited where he is.”

Foreman, 27, is coming off a breakthrough sixth year in the NFL in which he rushed for career-highs with 203 carries, 914 yards and 5 scores. Foreman assumed the Panthers’ lead rushing role after an October trade of star running back Christian McCaffrey (49ers). He maximized that opportunity and landed a one-year contract with the Bears this offseason.

Foreman brings the Bears veteran stability and a reliable presence as Herbert steps into a more demanding role. 

Then there’s the rookie Johnson, a fourth-round pick out of Texas who made quite an impression on the Bears during the pre-draft process.

The 22-year-old Johnson largely played a backup role with the Longhorns as dynamic rusher Bijan Robinson led the way last season before becoming the No. 8 overall pick to the Falcons in this draft. Johnson rushed for 554 yards and 6 touchdowns last season before falling to the fourth round, where the Bears were thrilled to find him. General manager Ryan Poles said he sees Johnson with the rushing abilities and personality traits to become a key piece of the Bears’ future.

“He is a really good football player that I know is going to be successful in this league in many different ways,” Poles said.

The Bears could’ve conceivably explored a trade with the Giants for two-time Pro Bowl back Saquon Barkley, who’s disgruntled without a long-term contract extension in New York. They could’ve also explored a future with former Vikings star Dalvin Cook, who was a Pro Bowl player each of the last four years and is currently a free agent. Each of those players would represent a flashy addition at running back and create a national narrative that the Bears are ready to contend this season.

But the Bears are quite confident in what they have at running back with the committee in place. They’re hopeful in Herbert’s potential as their top back, pleased to have the steady presence of Foreman and optimistic in the future of Johnson. 

The Bears are moving forward without Montgomery and now boasting a dynamic backfield committee.

“You need one, two, three really good guys that really carry the rock,” Herbert said. “And there’s going to be no drop-off. 

“We’ve got a really strong group. We’ve got guys who can take it to the house at any given moment.”

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