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Chicago Bears 2021 Position Battles: Will there be a running back by committee?

This is the third in our 11 part position preview series for Chicago Bears training camp.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears finished strong in the running game a year ago averaging 144 yards per game in the six games after the bye. For a little perspective that number would have been good for fifth in the NFL had they done it in all 16 games. Part of the run game resurgence was the offensive line finally settling on a solid five, but it’s all synergistic.

The running backs have some room to run, which makes them more confident and decisive, which helps the passing game open up, which keeps defenses off-balance, which helps the o-line get comfortable, which allows them to keep creating lanes for the backs, and it’s just a beautiful thing.

While the running game isn’t as critical to success as it was back in the day, it’s still beneficial to a young quarterback, and if the Bears do get Justin Fields in at some point this year, it’d be nice to be able to lean on the running backs every now and again.

Roster Locks

The Bears let their number two tailback walk and added a guy that was last seen scoring two touchdowns and rushing for 104 yards in the Super Bowl. Sure it was two Super Bowls ago, but that just means that the 29-year old Damien Williams is fresh after opting out of the 2020 season. In 2019 with the Chiefs, he rushed for nearly 500 yards and caught 30 balls, both career highs, and he’ll bring versatility to the offense that the Bears covet.

He’s backing up David Montgomery who is also coming off a career best season, and I can’t wait to see how his new found running style benefits him. Offseason work with speed trainer Chris Korfist has D-Mo primed for an even bigger break out 2021.

“He’s actually teaching me how to run,” Montgomery said via 670 The Score’s Chris Emma last month. “Like, I’m 23 years old, getting ready to turn 24 here soon in a couple days. But I’ve not been able to run properly the entirety of my life. Me not really realizing how I didn’t know how to run, he’s definitely cleared that image up for me. He’s definitely helping me out a lot.”

Speed was one of the reasons Montgomery didn’t go higher in the 2019 draft as his 4.63 forty yards dash wasn’t explosive enough. But after working with Korfist it’s estimated that Montgomery is at about 4.44 for his forty now, and he was clocked with an additional 1.5 miles per hour to his top speed.

The other roster lock was the number two tailback before he tore his knee during week three’s game, Tarik Cohen, and all reports are that he should be fine for training camp. The Bears were extra cautious with him at OTAs and minicamp, and they’ll likely bring him along slowly in 2021, but once he’s up to speed he’s a legitimate weapon for the offense as he can line up anywhere.

A good bet to make it

I really like the college tape from Bears rookie Khalil Herbert. He’s a tough, compact runner at 5’9”, 204 pounds, and he does have 4.44 speed. The Bears used him at kick return quite a bit this summer, so his special teams ability should earn him a spot on the 53-man roster.

On the bubble

Special teams is what has kept Ryan Nall around for the last season and a half, but he’s not as explosive a runner as Herbert is, so I predict Nall gets cut and lands back on the practice squad. If the Bears value special team experience for their number four back they may keep Nall (65% of Chicago’s third phase snaps in 2020) and try to get Herbert back to their practice squad, but that would be risky.

Artavis Pierce is a decent athlete and another candidate for the practice squad along with rookie UDFA CJ Marable, and if I had to guess it’ll be Marable that is the odd man out.