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Bears 2022 position preview: Running back

Bears running backs David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert and Trestan Ebner
Bears running backs David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert and Trestan Ebner

The following is the second of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

Running back is arguably the Bears' deepest position, featuring starter David Montgomery, backup Khalil Herbert and rookie sixth-round pick Trestan Ebner.

Montgomery has emerged as the type of player the Bears envisioned when they selected him in the third round of the 2019 draft out of Iowa State. Despite missing four games with a knee injury in 2021, he led the team in rushing for the third straight season, compiling 849 yards and seven touchdowns on 225 carries. The 5-11, 224-pounder also caught 42 passes for 301 yards.

In generating 1,150 yards from scrimmage, Montgomery became just the fourth player in Bears history to produce at least 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons, joining Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, Matt Forte and Jordan Howard. Montgomery gained 1,074 yards in 2019 (889 rushing, 185 receiving) and 1,508 yards in 2020 (1,070 rushing, 438 receiving).

During the offseason, first-year running backs coach David Walker lauded Montgomery for his attitude and determination to improve. 

"The thing I like about David is he doesn't feel like he's arrived yet," Walker said. "Some of the guys that have been in the league for a while think they have arrived. He's trying to learn. I believe I'm coach three in four seasons for him, so he's had to really learn every offseason something different and new. He's doing a good job with it. I really like his makeup in terms of wanting to get better, pushing himself to get better. He has high standards, and we are going to do everything we can to reach those standards on a daily basis."

Herbert returns for his second season after exceeding expectations as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2021. 

He especially excelled when Montgomery was sidelined. In four games as the Bears' primary ballcarrier from Weeks 5-8, Herbert rushed for 344 yards, the fourth most by an NFL running back during that span. He finished the year running for 433 yards and two touchdowns on 103 carries, catching 14 passes for 96 yards and averaging 24.1 yards on 17 kickoff returns.

In addition, Herbert was voted by teammates as a winner of the Brian Piccolo Award, which is presented annually to a rookie and veteran who best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of Brian Piccolo, a Bears running back who died from embryonal cell carcinoma on June 16, 1970, at the age of 26.

"He's kind of shown up and made some good runs and good decisions with the ball, and he's a decisive young man," Walker said in May. "Some [ballcarriers] try to pick and poke and wait to see what happens. He's very decisive. He will just continue to get better, continue to improve. The moment won't ever be too big for him. He's got that kind of makeup. I expect him to be able to go out there, if 'D-Mo' is on the sideline and [Herbert] has to be in the game, he will do a good job as well as he did last year."

The Bears spent a sixth-round pick on a running back for the second straight year in Ebner. He appeared in a school-record 61 games over five seasons at Baylor, rushing for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns on 343 carries, catching 127 passes for 1,515 yards and 11 TDs, and averaging 25.3 yards with three touchdowns on 47 kickoff returns and 6.8 yards with one TD on 28 punt returns.

Last season, Ebner was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year and voted first-team all-Big 12 as a return specialist and all-purpose player. He also set career rushing highs with 148 carries for 799 yards and became the first player in Baylor history to compile at least 1,000 career rushing and receiving yards.

Ebner's greatest strength may be his ability as a receiver out of the backfield.

"I think that's his calling card and his best value, honestly," Bears scout Breck Ackley said after the draft. "In high school, he played a little bit of receiver, played some quarterback, kind of moved around. But that's the first thing that stands out when you watch him. The guy runs routes like a receiver, he catches the ball naturally. It showed up consistently on film and at his pro day, and that's really, I think, what makes him dynamic and a special weapon."

Also competing for roster spots this summer at running back will be third-year pro Darrynton Evans and undrafted rookie De'Montre Tuggle.

The Bears claimed Evans off waivers from the Titans in March. Selected by Tennessee in the third round of the 2020 draft out of Appalachian State, he played in five games as a rookie and one contest last season, all as a reserve, rushing for 61 yards on 16 carries and catching four passes for 38 yards and one TD. He also averaged 22.3 yards on 10 kickoff returns with a long of 31 yards. 

Evans has missed parts of his first two NFL seasons with injuries and spent all but one week of the 2021 campaign on injured reserve.

Tuggle played in 27 games over three seasons at Ohio, rushing for 1,851 yards and 24 touchdowns on 292 carries and catching 34 passes for 283 yards and three TDs. Last year the Texas native appeared in 12 contests, rushing for 804 yards and seven TDs on 138 carries and catching 16 passes for 156 yards and TDs.

The Bears will open training camp with a true fullback on their roster for the first time since Michael Burton in 2018. In March, they signed Khari Blasingame, who has appeared in 32 NFL games with 13 starts in three seasons with the Titans, catching 10 passes for 97 yards and rushing for six yards on three carries. He also served as the lead blocker for star running back Derrick Henry.

In their first two seasons together, Henry led the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns with 1,540 yards and 16 TDs in 2019 and 2,027 yards and 17 TDs in 2020. When he sustained a season-ending injury in Week 8 last year, Henry was again leading the NFL with 937 yards and 10 TDs and was on pace to break the league's rushing record.

During non-contact drills this offseason, Blasingame made a positive impression on his position coach.

"What he brings to the team is toughness," Walker said. "You don't have to have pads on to just watch and feel him in terms of toughness. That's from a physical and mental standpoint."