Bears Position Preview: Running Back

How the Bears manage the workload in their backfield is an intriguing storyline.

Chris Emma
July 11, 2019 - 11:53 am

Leading up to the start of Bears training camp in late July, we're running a series of positional outlooks. This is the second installment. You can read all of them here.

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(670 The Score) As the Bears examined the potential of their offense after it displayed inconsistencies in 2018, it became clear they would seek a change at running back.

Jordan Howard set the Bears' rookie rushing record in 2016 and had established himself as a reliable running back, but his inability to be the versatile piece that coach Matt Nagy sought for his offense forced the team to act.

The Bears signed veteran Mike Davis, traded Howard to the Eagles and then drafted David Montgomery out of Iowa State. With Davis and Montgomery joining Tarik Cohen, the Bears feel better about the potential of their offense.

How will it all work in 2019? Let's take a look.

Projected depth chart

1A.) Mike Davis, 26

Davis will likely open the season as the feature back, though the Bears have made it clear this will be a three-headed monster in the backfield. Davis provides what Nagy desires out of the backfield, as he rushed for 514 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and caught 34 passes in 2018.

1B.) Tarik Cohen, 23

Nagy knows well the kind of speed and explosiveness that Cohen brings. He doesn't want to overuse that and expose Cohen, who projects to be a complement at running back while also filling a role out wide.

1C.) David Montgomery, 22

At Iowa State, Montgomery proved his place as one of the Big 12's premier rushers and sold the Bears on what he could bring at the next level. How Montgomery absorbs Nagy's offense and takes it to the field at full speed will define his role early as a rookie.

Depth: Cordarrelle Patterson (WR), Ryan Nall, Kerrith Whyte Jr.

Related: Bears position preview: Will Mitchell Trubisky emerge as a top-tier quarterback?

Position coach: Charles London

London joined Nagy's coaching staff with a previously established running back group. Now, he will be the man tasked with ensuring the development of Montgomery and helping define how carries are split.

How the Bears got here

Off to the side of mini-camp warmups in 2018, Nagy stood along a sideline and chucked pass after pass at Howard. Nagy was willing to give him the chance to prove himself as a versatile weapon.

Howard's main weaknesses were in route running and operating as a wide receiver the way Cohen, Montgomery and Davis can. While Howard can catch a pass out of the backfield, he struggled making plays big plays. During the 2018 season, the Bears had already begun scouting for Howard's replacement while he was on the roster.

Despite the need at running back and the potential for a championship season, the Bears were never in position to commit big money for Le'Veon Bell. They locked in Davis on the first day of free agency while continuing to move forward with their plan to draft a running back.

The Bears didn't own draft picks in the first or second rounds, so they selected Montgomery in the third round after trading up to No. 73 overall.

Key storyline: Will Montgomery emerge as the Bears' go-to back?

The Bears don't need Montgomery to be an every-down back and a 1,000-yard rusher. That's why they signed Davis, and they know Cohen and perhaps receiver Cordarrelle Patterson will see carries too.

But with the scouting work put in to draft Montgomery, the Bears clearly feel that he has the potential to be a three-down back -- if not in 2019, then down the road. 

Montgomery's performance in training camp will set the tone for how the Bears use him this season. Once there's kickoff on the 2019 regular season, the opportunities for Montgomery to prove himself will be fewer.

The Bears see their three running backs as a positive instead of a burden. Nagy and his coaching staff will use the ramp-up to the regular season establishing a plan with their rushers. 

That will largely be determined by how much Montgomery is ready to handle.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.