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Bears run game will be key in opener

Bears running backs David Montgomery & Khalil Herbert
Bears running backs David Montgomery & Khalil Herbert

During Sunday's season opener, all eyes will be on quarterback Justin Fields as he begins his second season with the Bears. While Fields' growth under center and as a leader will be the focal point, the Bears' run game will also need to establish itself early on.

The running back room features veteran David Montgomery, second-year player Khalil Herbert and rookie Trestan Ebner. The Bears also brought in fullback Khari Blasingame this offseason to add to the unit.

Montgomery is excited about playing in the new offense under first-year coordinator Luke Getsy. Montgomery said he loves the scheme that Getsy has brought in and believes it will be beneficial to his game and the entire running back room. Ebner added the new offense seems to fit each player's strengths when it comes to the run game.

"It'll be able to get people in space and get our backs, a lot of times, one-on-one with corners where we have an advantage and we're able to make explosive runs based off that," Ebner said. "We've got a lot of motions, a lot of movements to confuse the defense to get guys in one-on-one matchups and all that, so I think this offense helps you put your best players in the best position to succeed."

Creating a dynamic run game will also open up more options for Fields and the passing attack.

"I mean if you can't run the ball, then it's gonna be hard to be successful on the offense," Fields said. "So just having those guys in the running back room, getting the running game going, that's a big part of our offense. Of course, the better we are running the ball, the more it's gonna open up play-action pass and a lot of the different stuff."

Last season, Montgomery succeeded at instituting the ground game at the start of the season, recording over 100 rushing yards in two of the first four games.

Montgomery said dominance in the run game will take pressure off Fields, so the quarterback doesn't have to constantly drop back or scramble to make a play.

"It's definitely important," Montgomery said. "It's easier for Justin, it helps the line and it's just a better game. It helps the game entirely if you can run the ball with great productivity. So, we just want to be sure that we kind of get on it early and we just handle it and have fun doing it too."

For the offensive line to be a force in the run game, center Sam Mustipher said the key is everyone being on the same page and continuing to build on the preseason growth.

"I would say, just seeing things through one set of eyes, being on the same page with regards to assignments and things like that," Mustipher said. "The main focus for us really has to be just going out there and executing what the coaches have for us. When we go out there, and we do that, and then you implement the 'HITS' principle from coach Flus and how it relates to our offense, that's a recipe for success."

Mustipher is familiar with the Bears' Week 1 opponent as he started at center against the 49ers last season. San Francisco ended the 2021 season ranked third in total defense. They ranked sixth among NFL teams in rushing yards allowed per game (98.7) and yards per carry (4.0).

While the 49ers' defensive front endured some turnover between 2021 and 2022, Mustipher knows the group still presents a tough test.

"It's a very talented defense," Mustipher said. "[Defensive coordinator] DeMeco Ryans does a great job. He has playing experience, so he really does understand to how to beat protections and stuff like that. I mean, you can see with the blitzes that they run, his understanding of the game, how to get his guys in great position. But as far as rollover, that's a talented front seven, those guys evolve and change every year. Talented back end too, but that front seven especially is one of the most dominant in the NFL, so it'll be a great challenge."

Mustipher remains confident in his unit's ability to meet the challenge on Sunday. He is ready to see the run game to take shape and be able to "get off the ball and go hit people."

Another piece of the rushing attack that Mustipher is excited to see is the use of Blasingame as a true fullback. Eberflus has expressed his value of having a fullback as it "creates more gaps in the running game."

As one of the few remaining true fullbacks in the league, Blasingame appreciates the emphasis Eberflus has placed on the position. He's also excited about the creativity Getsy has with utilizing a fullback.

Mustipher said Blasingame can contribute to ground game as a playmaker and an extra blocker for the offensive line. The center also believes reviving the fullback position in Chicago is a nod to Bears history.

"KB does a great job, so it's fun," Mustipher said. "Chicago Bears football, you think of historic franchise, and you know, to bring back the fullback and get to play some smash mouth football. That's exciting. I mean, that's what this franchise is all about. So, I hope Papa Bear (George Halas) is smiling down on us."

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