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Bears training camp preview: Running backs


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

After a productive rookie year, expectations are high for running back David Montgomery as he enters his second NFL season.

Selected by the Bears in the third round of last year's draft out of Iowa State, Montgomery rushed for 889 yards and six touchdowns on 242 carries and caught 25 passes for 185 yards and one TD in 2019.

"I think for a young guy to come in and play as well as he did is not easy, so that's an impressive feat," new Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said in June. "And everything he's said now tells you that he's serious about what that jump is going to be from Year 1 to Year 2, which we've all seen young players make.

"I'm excited about it. I'm excited to see how he works on the practice field and his level of detail. That's a thing that oftentimes for those second-year players, now that they've kind of got their feet on solid ground with some of just the small things of the atmosphere they're in, now they can really turn it to those details. And so I'm excited on the practice field to see how he attacks that."

Montgomery ranked second among NFL rookie rushers in both yards (889) and touchdowns (6) last season, trailing only Raiders first-round pick Josh Jacobs, who ran for 1,150 yards and seven TDs.

Montgomery had two 100-yard performances, rushing for a career-high 135 yards and one TD on 27 carries in a Week 8 loss to the Chargers and 113 yards and one touchdown on 23 attempts in a Week 17 win over the Vikings. The 5-10, 222-pounder's 55-yard run against the Chargers was the longest run by the Bears since Jordan Howard's 69-yarder on Oct. 31, 2016 in a 20-10 victory over the Vikings at Soldier Field.

"He's a very highly-motivated individual," running backs coach Charles London said in June. "He's a self-starter. He's probably his own worst critic. I think he learned a lot of lessons his rookie year and I think he feels like he has so much more he can do, so much more that he can be in this offense, and I know he's ready to do it."

Montgomery will again be complemented by running back Tarik Cohen, a speedy and explosive playmaker who lines up all over the field.

Last season Cohen rushed for 213 yards on 64 carries and caught a career-high 79 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns.

The 2017 fourth-round pick from North Carolina A&T did not, however, produce the big plays that he had generated in previous years. His yards-per-reception dropped from 10.2 in 2018 to 5.8 in 2019. Cohen's longest catch in 2019 was a 31-yarder, while he had receptions of 70, 50, 46, 35 and 32 yards in 2018.

"I know Tarik is excited about this upcoming year," London said. "We're putting last year behind us and we're just going to move forward. He knows that I've got his back and we're going to do whatever we think's best for Tarik as far as in the offense and whatever that may entail … He's also very motivated to get out there and return to his 2018 form."

As Cohen gears up for his fourth NFL season, the 5-6, 191-pounder told reporters that entering the final year of his contract is "definitely a motivating factor."

"I feel like I can't put any pressure on nobody else," Cohen said. "It's all on me. That's how I like to go about it. I just take it upon myself, anything else like, I want to win as a team. I feel like if we win as a team that is good for everybody's individual success."

The competition for the third running back position will feature second-year pro Ryan Nall and undrafted rookies Artavis Pierce and Napoleon Maxwell.

Nall, who joined the Bears in 2018 as an undrafted free agent from Oregon State, played in the final seven games last year. His first career rushing attempts came in the season finale in Minnesota when he gained eight yards on two carries. The 6-2, 239-pounder has shown promise in the preseason, producing a 69-yard run each of the last two summers.

Pierce, who played with Nall at Oregon State in 2016-17, rushed for 2,127 yards and 15 touchdowns on 366 carries in 44 games over four seasons in college. The 5-11, 208-pounder also caught 74 passes for 578 yards and two TDs.

"Artavis is a guy who grew up in Florida, was committed to South Florida and then ended up going to Oregon State where he was teammates with Ryan Nall," London said. "They have a close relationship there. Artavis is an explosive guy. He caught the ball well out of the backfield on tape, and I think the sky is the limit for him."

Maxwell rushed for 2,090 yards and 22 touchdowns on 392 carries in 45 games over four seasons at Florida International. After playing in six games as a freshman in 2014, the 6-foot, 215-pounder missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons with torn ACLs before returning in 2017.

"Napoleon is a bigger guy that is more of a power back," London said. "He had some setbacks down there at FIU when he was coming out, but he's a very highly-motivated individual.

"I'm excited about those two guys, Artavis Pierce and Napoleon Maxwell. They have been great in the Zoom [video] sessions picking up the offense. Now we have to see if it translates obviously when we get to the field, but I'm happy with where those guys are at right now."