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 have already evaluated the quarterbacks and now it’s time to turn our attention to the running backs, arguably the most stable position group on the offense. The top two backs from 2021 return for this season as David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert are expected to see the bulk of the carries. The team opted not to re-sign veteran Damien Williams and instead brought in Darrynton Evans from the Tennessee Titans. The Bears also drafted pass-catching back Trestan Ebner from Baylor to replace Tarik Cohen’s production and even added fullback Khari Blasingame, signaling a renewed commitment to the ground game.
The Bears are expected to establish a strong running attack under new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, led primarily by Montgomery and Herbert. But players like Evans and Ebner will have a chance to be solid contributors as well. Here is our preview of the running backs as we get ready for training camp:
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – DECEMBER 26: David Montgomery #32 of the Chicago Bears reacts as he runs off the field after the end of the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on December 26, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Montgomery once again enters the season as the starting running back and hopes to get back on track after injuries derailed his 2021 season. The bruising back seemed poised for a breakout season through four games last year, but a knee injury knocked him out for a number of weeks. Montgomery finished the year with 849 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.
Now in a new offense that figures to focus on the run game, Montgomery stands to once again receive the lion’s share of the carries, but they will likely be distributed a little more evenly than last year. Herbert is nipping at Montgomery’s heels and should see more touches in 2022 after a solid rookie campaign. Still, Montgomery is the leader of the backfield and he’ll get at least one more season as the team’s primary three-down ball carrier.
Nov 25, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) runs the ball against Detroit Lions inside linebacker Alex Anzalone (34) during the third quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
While Montgomery is the team’s starter, Herbert is right behind him and showed just what he can do when he sees enough carries. As a rookie, Herbert stepped up when injuries and COVID-19 impact the running back room. He had 344 rushing yards during the four-game stretch as the team’s bell cow back without Montgomery, but Herbert’s touches faded when the starter returned.
Herbert should see a significant increase in opportunities, however. Getsy came from the Green Bay Packers, an offense that consistently utilized two running backs in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. Both backs notched more than 170 carries each and averaged over 4.0 yards per carry. Expect something similar for Herbert and Montgomery in this run-heavy offense.
Chicago Bears running back Darrynton Evans warms up at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Lake Forest, Ill., Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
After Montgomery and Herbert, things get a bit dicey for the Bears at the running back position. Former Tennessee Titan Darrynton Evans was picked up by after being put on waivers, where he’ll attempt to get his young career back on track. Evans was a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft for the Titans, but only played in a handful of games during his two years in the pros. In 2021, Evans appeared in just one game due to injuries.
He has a solid opportunity with the Bears, though, as his running style fits the scheme that’s being put in place. It’s also important to note the Bears claimed Evans off waivers, taking on the final two years of his rookie deal. It’s not a huge financial investment, but could indicate a priority in keeping Evans on the team.
Oct 30, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears running back Trestan Ebner (1) looks for more yards against the Texas Longhorns in the second half of an NCAA football game at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports
For the second year in a row, the Bears invested a late-round draft pick in a productive college running back. The Bears selected Trestan Ebner in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft out of Baylor, who could see work early as a return specialist and receiver out of the backfield. Ebner had 799 yards on 148 carries and two touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry during his final season in college. He also added 28 catches for 284 yards and two touchdowns.
Since the Bears only have four running backs on their roster, Ebner has a good chance of making the final roster. He’ll compete with Evans for touches but he has the potential to be a contributor on both offense and special teams when the season begins.
Tennessee Titans full back Khari Blasingame (41) warms up before facing the Patriots at Gillette Stadium Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Mass.
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The Bears biggest addition to the running back room came in the form of a fullback. For the first time in four years, the Bears have a true fullback on the roster, signing former Tennessee Titan Khari Blasingame this offseason.
Blasingame was a key part of the Titan’s prolific running game with Derrick Henry over the last few seasons. According to Statmuse, Henry averaged 126 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry on the ground with Blasingame in six games during the 2021 season. In two games without him, that number dipped to 90.5 and 3.2 yards per game. Now, he’ll be tasked with opening up holes for the Bears backs and it could lead to a vastly improved ground game across the board.
Big question: Will this be David Montgomery's final season as a Bear?
Jun 8, 2022; Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery (32) warms up during organized team activities at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
The Bears have a decision to make regarding Montgomery’s future with the team. The starting running back is entering the final year of his rookie deal and while he’s been productive when healthy, it’s not a popular move these days to extend running backs. The shelf life at the position continues to dwindle and teams have regretted significant extensions. Montgomery’s leadership and toughness have been lauded by the new regime, however, and considering the Bears are going to be flushed with cash next offseason, it’s not out of the question that an extension happens at some point.
The other part to this equation is Herbert. If the second-year playmaker continues to ascend and prove he’s capable of becoming a workhorse running back, Montgomery’s days might be numbered regardless of how he performs. What the Bears choose to do at the position going forward will be a storyline to watch as the season unfolds.
Training camp position previews
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus, right, talks with quarterback Justin Fields at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Lake Forest, Ill., Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
We’re unveiling our Bears 2022 training camp position previews, where we’re breaking down every player by position and examining the biggest question facing the group.
Wide receiver (coming 7/6/22)
Tight end (coming 7/8/22)
Offensive line (coming 7/10/22)
Interior defensive line (coming 7/12/22)
Edge rusher (coming 7/14/22)