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Herbert seeks to take next step as all-around back

Bears running back Khalil Herbert
Bears running back Khalil Herbert

Back home in Florida during the offseason, Khalil Herbert turned to a different sport to help improve his pass protection skills.

The Bears running back began boxing once a week, describing it as "a different type of workout, a different type of conditioning."

Herbert doesn't plan to become a boxer after he's done playing football, but he certainly possesses a greater appreciation for how boxers prepare for fights.

"I realized after I started it, just the different core mentality, the core muscles that work and the different things like that," Herbert said. "I started liking it. I kept going, and when I got back up here, I continued to do it once a week."

After a stellar second season with the Bears last year in which he rushed for 731 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry, Herbert headed into the offseason determined to improve his pass protection. After 12 training camp practices, he believes he's made major strides.

"I feel like I definitely came a long way," he said. "Putting that intention toward it, working this offseason and doing different things to work on it I feel like has helped. We've still got a long way to go. I've still got a lot of things to get better at. But it's good to see some of it paying off."

Herbert has also improved as a receiver out of the backfield, which could give him more chances to stay on the field on third downs. 

"He's made improvements in the protection, made improvements in the passing," said coach Matt Eberflus. "The route tree is expanding for him. I feel the trust happening with the quarterbacks, especially with Justin [Fields], and it's starting to grow. I think it's been growing over the last three or four weeks." 

During the offseason, Herbert also worked on improving as a ballcarrier, specifically finishing long runs in the end zone. He pointed to a 63-yard scamper versus the Commanders last season at Soldier Field, when he got tackled at the 6 and the Bears failed to score, ultimately losing 12-7.

"The biggest thing for me is my long runs," Herbert said. "I got caught for the first time last season against Washington, so [I'm] working on that long speed, [to] make sure I'm breaking runs like Justin."

Herbert was selected by the Bears in the sixth round of the 2021 draft out of Virginia Tech. He exceeded expectations as a rookie, rushing 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 four games as the Bears' primary ballcarrier when starter David Montgomery was injured from Weeks 5-8, Herbert rushed for 344 yards, the fourth most by an NFL running back during that span.

Herbert picked up last year where he left off as a rookie, demonstrating his elusiveness and ability to break tackles. As he enters his third NFL season, he plans on continuing to ascend as an every-down back.

"Really, just taking that next step as an all-around back, all-around player, staying healthy, being able to help my team any way I can," Herbert said. "As a player, as a leader, as a man, taking that next step, and the rest will take care of itself."