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Training Camp Battle: Khalil Herbert vs Roschon Johnson

The running back room is crowded, who will emerge as RB1?

Chicago Bears Offseason Workout Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In 2022, Luke Getsy proved that running the football is going to be a key part of the Chicago Bears’ offense. Part of the reason for the run-heavy offense was certainly due to the struggles in the passing game, but there will certainly continue to be a Kyle Shanahan-esque vibe to this offense, even with the expected gains in the passing game.

The 2022 Bears featured mostly a 2-headed monster at running back with David Montgomery getting the majority of the carries and Khalil Herbert excelling in the RB2 role. Montgomery was a free agent and is now a member of the Detroit Lions and the Bears have added three, that’s right, three new names to the running back room. They signed Travis Homer to a two-year deal. They signed D’Onta Foreman to a one-year deal and drafted Roschon Johnson out of Texas in the fourth round.

Homer isn’t really here to compete for a big role in the offense. He’s going to be used as a third down back because he excels in the passing game. He’s an excellent pass blocker and he has excellent hands as well with a catch rate of over 85% out of the backfield.

Foreman, of course, was signed before the draft to fit more into the Montgomery role in this offense but with Johnson here, the Bears are going to see exactly what they have in the rookie as they have no commitments to Foreman beyond this season. Foreman is an outstanding RB3 and a decent rotational running back. If Johnson and Herbert emerge as the top two running backs with Foreman being the support in the run game and Homer being the support in the passing game, the Bears will have one of the best running back rooms in the league.

I think, ideally, the Bears would like to see Johnson emerge as the RB1, not just because he’s a Ryan Poles guy, but because he has a well-rounded skillset you want out of your RB1. Johnson can handle carrying the ball, but he also has some receiving abilities out of the backfield, and also of the utmost importance, he’s an excellent blocker out of the backfield. We know how critical it’s going to be to keep Justin Fields healthy this year and Johnson can certainly help play a role in that.

Herbert’s skills are more limited, especially at pass blocker. If Herbert wants to emerge as a true RB1 this year, he is going to need to show Matt Eberflus and Getsy that he has improved greatly as a blocker. Herbert is not going to be able to be out there for a majority of snaps if he can’t reliably pick up a block in the backfield. If he can, he can see his role develop more into the traditional RB1 role, but if he doesn’t, he’s going to continue in his role that he saw in 2022, a dynamic runner who will see plenty of carries but only be on the field for 30 to 35% of the plays.

Training camp is going to show just who, between Herbert and Johnson, is ready to handle the role as RB1. It’s possible that Johnson loses the battle in camp, but emerges as the RB1 later in the season as the rookie continues to get comfortable in his new offense. Regardless of who wins, the Bears are going to want to see this backfield as a stable of backs. They are going to want all four of these running backs to see the field every game, which means it’s possible that no back is on the field for more than 50% of the snaps.

Ideally, I’d expect the Bears to want to see Homer and Foreman each around 10 to 15% of the snaps with Herbert around 30 to 35% and Johnson around 40 to 45%, but training camp is going to play a significant role in determining that breakdown in snap counts, especially early in the season.