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Bears 2023 position preview: Running back

Bears running backs Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson
Bears running backs Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson

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

The Bears boast talent and depth at running back, with returning third-year pro Khalil Herbert being joined by free-agent addition D'Onta Foreman and fourth-round draft pick Roschon Johnson.

Herbert picked up last year where he left off as a rookie, demonstrating his elusiveness and ability to break tackles. Despite missing four games with an injury, he rushed for 731 yards and four touchdowns on 129 carries with a long run of 64 yards. He also averaged 29.2 yards on five kickoff returns with a long of 50 yards.

"He can really do a great job of hitting the home run," said coach Matt Eberflus. "He's got great vision. He's got great cutback ability. He can take the ball outside, but he's really good at cutting it back when it's there. We're excited where he is."

Herbert is excited about battling for the starting job in training camp.

"Every day you've got to compete," he said. "I come in with the mindset, obviously, that I want to be the starter. Just coming in with the mindset of leading and doing what I've got to do and doing what I do every day and have been doing, I feel like things will work out." 

Herbert told reporters that he worked to improve his pass blocking in the offseason by punching bags.

"I did boxing this offseason just to work on my punch time," he said. "Everybody's different, but that's what I tried working on to help me."

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Step into Bears territory

Foreman, a fifth-year pro, gives the Bears a bruising power back. Last year with the Panthers, the 6-1, 236-pounder established career highs in all rushing categories with 203 attempts, 914 yards and five touchdowns. After a midseason trade sent star running back Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers, Foreman had five 100-yard games, rushing for 165, 130, 118, 118 and 113 yards.

Foreman made a similar impact with the Titans in 2021. Joining the team Nov. 2, three days after star running back Derrick Henry had sustained a season-ending injury, Foreman helped lead Tennessee to the AFC South title by rushing for 566 yards and three TDs in the final nine games of the season.

Running backs coach David Walker feels that Foreman is comparable in style to David Montgomery, who left the Bears after four seasons via free agency to sign with the Lions.

"He fits the mold very similar to 'D-Mo,'" Walker said. "We're used to having a guy that would be a guy that can bring physicality to the room, had enough shake to make people miss, had good speed but not great speed. He brings a similar style of runner. We play outside, we play on grass, we play in a division where in December and January we've got to find ways to run the ball in [poor] conditions to win. And a guy like him fits that mold, fits what we're all about."

Johnson also fits that mold. The 6-2, 222-pound rookie appeared in 47 games over four seasons at Texas, rushing for 2,190 yards and 23 touchdowns on 392 carries and catching 56 passes for 420 yards and one TD. Last year he ran for 554 yards and five TDs on 93 carries and had 14 receptions for 128 yards and one TD.

An All-American quarterback at Port Neches-Groves High School in Texas, Johnson was converted to running back as a college freshman and remained at Texas despite the presence of star running back Bijan Robinson, who was selected with the eighth pick in the first round of the draft by the Falcons.

After Johnson was chosen by the Bears, area scout John Syty raved about him, saying: "I don't know if I've ever written a guy with higher character than him."

"This is a young man who has some pretty special qualities just in terms of his leadership ability," Syty added. "He's someone we really feel can become a pillar in this organization for a really long time. I feel really strongly about this guy. There's a level of 'it' factor to this kid the second he walks into the room."

The competition at running back in training camp will also include second-year pro Trestan Ebner and free-agent acquisition Travis Homer. 

Selected by the Bears in the sixth round of last year's draft out of Baylor, Ebner appeared in all 17 games as a rookie, rushing for 54 yards on 24 carries, catching two passes for eight yards and averaging 22.6 yards on 10 kickoff returns.

Homer arrives after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Seahawks. A 2019 sixth-round pick from Miami, he appeared in 49 games with two starts, rushing for 453 yards and one touchdown on 83 carries, catching 52 passes for 464 yards and one TD and averaging 24.7 yards on 18 kickoff returns.

Homer excelled on special teams in Seattle. As a rookie, he took a direct snap on a fake punt against the Vikings and picked up 29 yards and a first down. In Week 8 of 2021, he recovered an onside kick and returned it 44 yards for a TD versus the Jaguars. Five weeks later, his 73-yard TD run on a fake punt against the 49ers earned him NFC Special Team Player of the Week honors.

At fullback, veteran Khari Blasingame returns for a second season with the Bears after playing in 16 games with six starts last year.

Undrafted rookie Robert Burns will also compete for playing time at fullback this summer.

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