Bears 2021 training camp roster preview: Running backs

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Chicago Bears training camp is less than a month away, which means it’s time to start looking ahead at the roster the team is bringing to Lake Forest.

We already covered quarterback (here), so now it’s time to turn our attention to who Andy Dalton or Justin Fields will be handing the ball to out of the backfield.

There isn’t as much intrigue with the running backs as there is at quarterback, however, as there’s little doubt third-year back David Montgomery will resume his role as the team’s featured offensive player.

But what about the pecking order behind him? Which running back will rise to RB2 status? And will Montgomery remain in the field on third down now that Tarik Cohen is returning from an ACL injury suffered last season?

Let’s take a look at the running backs heading into training camp.

David Montgomery

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Montgomery enjoyed a mini-breakout season in 2020 when he finished the year with 1,070 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Three of his final six games went for more than 100 rushing yards, with a fourth mixed in at 95 yards. He scored seven of his eight touchdowns during that stretch too. Needless to say, the expectations are extremely high for Montgomery in 2021, especially after he provided his receiving chops with 54 catches for 438 yards and two scores. He had nine catches for 63 yards in the Bears' season finale. Anything less than 1,300 rushing yards would qualify as a disappointment for Montgomery in 2021.

Tarik Cohen

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Cohen's healthy return from a torn ACL will be a huge boost to a Bears offense that clearly missed his unique dynamic in 2020. Cohen appeared in just three games last year and totaled 20 touches on the season (14 carries, six receptions). Compare that to 2019 when he had 143 combined touches and 2018 when he totaled 170. How quickly Cohen returns to 100% will determine his workload in 2021, but it's safe to assume he'll get more reps as the season marches on, especially in the passing game. The increased confidence in Montgomery as a do-it-all back will allow Matt Nagy to deploy Cohen in more unique ways -- even on the field at the same time as Montgomery -- and make the Bears' offense even closer to being formidable.

Damien Williams

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Williams is a wildcard entering training camp. He profiles as a more traditional RB2 than Cohen and as a guy who would be more than adequate as a replacement for Montgomery should he succumb to injury or poor play. But Williams is now a journeyman veteran who's had stops in Miami and Kansas City and has never run for more than 498 yards in a season. He's 29 years old and in Chicago on a one-year deal. He isn't a threat to Montgomery's playing time, and it'd be somewhat surprising if he takes touches away from Cohen. In fact, Williams isn't a lock to make the Bears' final roster. It'd be a surprise if he doesn't, but Chicago has a few quality young prospects on the depth chart who might make more sense to keep around once the regular season kicks off.

Khalil Herbert

(AP Photo/David Banks, Pool)

One of those exciting young options is rookie sixth-round pick Khalil Herbert, who showcased a blend of big-play potential and tough between-the-tackles running during his one season at Virginia Tech. Herbert averaged 7.6 yards per carry for the Hokies last season and scored a career-best eight touchdowns. He totaled 1,183 rushing yards. At 5-9 and 210 pounds, Herbert has a traditional running back frame. He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at his pro day and has the kind of natural feel and vision that tends to lend itself favorably for prospects on the next level. If there's any running back on the roster who can challenge Montgomery for meaningful touches in 2021, it's Herbert (even though it's a longshot).

Artavis Pierce

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Pierce didn't have many opportunities to make a name for himself in 2020, but he did manage 34 yards and one touchdown on six carries as a rookie. Pierce has a similar build as Herbert and his speed (4.47) is nearly identical. but unlike the Va Tech standout, he wasn't a draft pick. He made the Bears' roster as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State and played with that kind of chip on his shoulder throughout the year. Don't discount Pierce as the kind of player who can do enough good things in training camp to stick around for another season.

Ryan Nall

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Nall is a quality running back who's had a decent run as a depth player for the Bears the last two seasons. He's appeared in 24 games and has five career carries but his real value is on special teams, where he logged 302 snaps in 2020. That kind of versatility is what usually gives end-of-the-roster guys a leg up on cutdown day. We'll see if it continues to hold true in 2021.

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