Fresh off winning the Super Bowl in 1985, the Bears used their first draft pick in 1986 on Neal Anderson, a running back from Florida. It was a luxury pick since Walter Payton still had a couple years left in his storied career.
Blocked by Payton, Anderson spent the better part of two years proving his worth on special teams. Anderson’s performance stood out so much that he was named an All-Pro after his rookie year by Pro Football Weekly, despite tallying under 250 yards of total offense.
In retrospect, Anderson’s effort on special teams was just a prologue to the career that would follow: 8,929 total yards, 71 touchdowns, and four Pro-Bowl selections. He retired in 1993 with more rushing yards than anyone in Bears history, save the man he replaced.
David Montgomery shouldn’t have any trouble finding playing time this season, but the Bears’ first draft pick in 2019 gave Chicago fans a strong hint Thursday night that he plans to follow in Anderson’s footsteps. After the game, coach Matt Nagy stopped himself from making any predictions but was effusive in his praise for the former Iowa State Cyclone.
“This kid’s DNA is rare,” said Nagy. “I don’t want to overblow him. He’s got a ways to go, but he’s headed in the right direction.”
Montgomery only saw action at running back for three drives. The last drive kicked with the rookie catching a screen pass from quarterback Chase Daniel and scampering to a 23-yard gain. It ended with him gliding through defenders into the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown.
“There was nothing there,” said Daniel,” and he made a touchdown of it. It was impressive.”
Nagy caught Montgomery, fresh off his first touchdown as a professional, on the way back to the sideline. The coach put his arm around his rookie running back and said “some good, encouraging things,” according to Montgomery.
“I just told him there’s gonna be plenty more of those,” said Nagy.
Viewers might have thought that they’d seen the last of Montgomery after Ryan Nall took his place for the final drive in the first half. However, Montgomery would reappear just in time to deny someone else their first touchdown.
Early in the third quarter, Panthers rookie receiver Terry Godwin broke loose on a punt return, crossing the 30 with no one between him and the end zone.
All of a sudden, Montgomery was in his way. The rookie showed off his much-discussed speed to come from the opposite side of the field and catch Godwin at Chicago’s 22-yard line.
Why put so much effort into a special-teams play in a preseason game?
“Because if I didn’t chase him down he was going to score,” said Montgomery.
Apart from keeping him on the field for special teams, Nagy wanted to limit Montgomery’s exposure in the preseason. He ended the night with three carries for 16 yards, while also recording three catches for 30 yards.
“He wanted more,” said Nagy. “That kid won’t stop. But I told him no more; he’s done.”
It seems likely that Montgomery will continue to factor into special teams, even if his load increases on offense. That’s just a part of Nagy’s philosophy. Montgomery might be a talented back, with an excellent blend of speed and power, but there are many ways that the team can utilize him.
“I come from the arena league,” Nagy said, “so I’m about ‘where we can use you, we use you.’ With guys like Mike Davis, obviously Tarik (Cohen) as a returner, any place you can use these guys—as long you’re smart about it, and you use them the right way—that’s what we’ll do.”
Even with a strong performance and Nagy’s praise, Montgomery still has the hunger that took him from a lightly recruited high schooler in Cincinnati to a workhorse back in the Big 10 to a critical piece on a Bears team with high ambitions.
“I’m never comfortable,” said Montgomery. “You can’t get comfortable, but, with me, it’s just taking it day-by-day and learning as much as I can learn. Retaining as much as I can retain. Learn from the vets, as well. But, yeah, I never get comfortable.”