For the next two weeks, Full Press Bears will be exploring every positional group on the Chicago Bears with the annual Taking Inventory series, evaluating their previous season and determining their projections, along with some requirements for success. Today, we continue with the runningbacks.
Historically speaking, the Bears’ offensive foundations root themselves in the run game. And in spite of the increasingly more common gunslinging offenses and their steady revolution of playbooks, the Bears continued to stay faithful to the hearty run for the past few seasons. Drafting the powerful downhill runner Jordan Howard kept the hard-nosed culture alive but after imminently moving on from the stalwart workhorse, the Bears enter 2019 without a true and clear number one backfield starter, all but certifying the new regime.
This, however, may play well into where the brilliant Matt Nagy seems to want to take the Bears offense.
Quite plainly, then rookie head coach Nagy had diverging visions for the Bears’ offensive mentality. As an openly Andy Reid disciple, ingenuity and creativity take precedence over fundamentals and tradition. While not entirely abandoning the smashmouth style of Howard, he clearly had no intention of building around him like Bears teams of old would. Seeing fewer carries and a steep dropoff in yards than previous years, Nagy often opted to utilize him more as a decoy or a failsafe rather than a legitimate weapon.
Because of this, sometimes plays drawn up for Howard seemed curiously out of place, as he was significant just by merit of being the only sturdy backfield option for the Bears. Going without other downhill runners forced Nagy to incorporate Howard and even when Nagy did, it was purely situational. Instead, Nagy, an avid modern spread offensive coach, primarily focused on either budding sophomore Mitchell Trubisky’s arm or the electrifying Tarik Cohen (more on his value later).
And when analyzing the two runningback selections in this past April’s draft, their archetypes clearly support this. Firstly, trading up for Iowa State superstar David Montgomery in the third round not only addresses the downhill workhorse role that Howard left open but also adds an extra dynamic to that role that Howard never could.
Widely regarded as the number one runningback prospect in this draft, Montgomery’s fearless and slippery running style combined with instinct and patience creates a dangerous playmaker right off the bat. Flaunting the vision to find holes and then the smooth moves to make defenders miss, he ranks as a trendy Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Also, having carried the ball well over twenty times in thirteen of his last nineteen games with a compact toughness, he comes into the league well-equipped for the rigors of the pros.
Already does Montgomery mesh perfectly with Nagy’s beliefs, sharing many similarities and comparisons to the former Chief and Nagy weapon Kareem Hunt. A hefty playmaker, the vivacious Montgomery will be able to spice up the routine downhill rushes while beefing up the spread arsenal and hopefully some spritzes to the passing game as well. Simply put, Montgomery will be able to do just as much and then some more than Howard could.
Also in the draft along Montgomery, the easily forgotten seventh rounder Kerrith Whyte Jr. could possibly land some touches with his fiery speed and an added layer of explosiveness. Trapped behind the Bills third rounder Devin Singletary at Florida Atlantic, Whyte still found a role in both the passing game and in kick returns, earning a second-team All-Conference USA nod for the latter and, despite the signing of kick return legend Cordarelle Patterson, probably will serve a similar role in the pros.
However, Montgomery will probably be met with some friendly competition from the freshly signed Mike Davis. The former 49er and Seahawk has been a reliable presence in the backfield for his career and will be coming to Chicago off the heels of a career year, with personal bests in total yards, touchdowns, and yards per carry. Though not a surefire workhorse as Howard was or Montgomery could be, he will be a steady runner whenever the Bears call his number.
Now the final Infinity Stone in the aforementioned Cohen honestly leaves very little to discuss. The spark plug’s excellence and rank on the offense really go without saying. Last season, dropping a meager fifteen points and sixty-five rushing yards in the disreputable playoff game against the Eagles had plenty of factors to blame but the bombastic Cohen seeing three touches all game contributed mightily to that stinging stinker.
As somewhat frowny face as it is to say, without Howard getting in the way, Cohen’s role will increase mightily going forward and this will only mean good things for the offense. Whenever Cohen touches the ball, he could score, averaging a robust 10.2 yards per reception last season.
For the outlook on this upcoming season, it seems pretty likely Nagy intends to use all three, Cohen, Davis, and Montgomery, intermittently. And really, he should. All three can serve multiple roles and all three compliment each other very well. So under this pretense, the Bears might just have the most dynamic rushing attack in the league. Depending on the situation, the Bears can run smashmouth or spread. The combined versatility of the three will allow Nagy to fully realize his offensive fantasies like Tony Stark discovering the arc reactor.
It’s no secret the Bears offense could and probably will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the offensive titans of the league. The runningback crew and their absurd ambidexterity create a three-headed monster in the backfield and that doesn’t even factor in the talent in the receiving corps or quarterback. Considering the overwhelming wealth of vitality and poppy athleticism in nearly every offensive set, Nagy will be a mad offensive scientist, finally capable of the ridiculous system he dreams of.