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Training camp position preview: Running backs

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

In replacing two of their top three running backs during the offseason, the Bears added talent and versatility to a backfield that already featured game-breaker Tarik Cohen.

The reigning NFC North champions signed veteran Mike Davis in free agency and then selected David Montgomery in the third round of the draft. They’ll replace Jordan Howard, who was traded to the Eagles; and Benny Cunningham, who was not re-signed.

Like Cohen, Montgomery and Davis both excel not only as ballcarriers but as pass-catchers. As dual threats, they will enable the Bears to keep opposing defenses guessing.

“It’s extremely important when you line up on Sunday that you’re not predictable,” director of player personnel Josh Lucas said at the Bears100 Celebration in June. “[Montgomery and Davis] both fit the mold that it doesn’t matter when they’re on the field—first, second or third down—they have the flexibility and versatility to run all the plays, and I think that will show and help us progress this year offensively.”

Montgomery is a physical runner who is expected to shine once the pads come on in training camp and the preseason. The Bears traded up 14 spots to select the 5-10, 222-pounder with the 87th overall pick in the draft.

Montgomery played in 37 games the past three seasons at Iowa State, rushing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns on 624 carries and catching 71 passes for 582 yards. Last year he appeared in 12 games, rushing for a career-high 1,216 yards and 13 TDs on 257 attempts and had 22 receptions for 157 yards.

According to Pro Football Focus, Montgomery led all of college football in forced missed tackles each of the past two years with 109 in 2017 and 100 in 2018.

“He’s introverted,” coach Matt Nagy said during the offseason. “He’s quiet. But he’s so driven, and you can just see how competitive he is and he wants to be perfect on every single play. He’s going to practice the way he plays and he’s making plays.”

Davis has appeared in 35 NFL games with nine starts over four seasons with the 49ers (2015-16) and Seahawks (2017-18). The 5-9, 217-pounder has rushed for 862 yards and five touchdowns on 234 carries and caught 59 passes for 408 yards and one TD.

Davis blossomed last year, establishing career highs in all categories by rushing for 514 yards and four touchdowns on 112 attempts and catching 34 passes for 214 yards and one TD while appearing in 15 games with two starts.

Subbing for injured starter Chris Carson in a Week 4 win over the Cardinals, Davis rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

Cohen, meanwhile, remains one of the NFL’s most electrifying and versatile players. Last year he rushed for 444 yards and three touchdowns on 99 carries and caught a team-leading 71 passes for 725 yards and five TDs.

In the process, he became only the second player in league history to gain at least 500 yards via rushing, receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns in his first 25 games.

Cohen lined up all over the field in 2018, excelling in different roles and creating matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. He led all NFL running backs with seven catches of at least 25 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown in a win over the Jets that was the Bears’ longest play from scrimmage of the season.

Cohen was also named first-team All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl as a punt returner after leading the NFL with 411 punt return yards.

Other running backs who are expected to push for playing time in training camp and the preseason include first-year pro Ryan Nall and rookie seventh-round pick Kerrith Whyte Jr..

Nall performed well during offseason workouts. He signed with the Bears last year as an undrafted free agent from Oregon State and spent the season on the practice squad. Nall showed promise during the preseason, ranking second in the NFL in rushing with 223 yards and one touchdown on 32 carries, including a 69-yarder.

Whyte appeared in 37 games the past three seasons at Florida Atlantic, rushing for 1,358 yards and 11 touchdowns on 232 carries and catching 22 passes for 227 yards with two TDs. He also averaged 26.1 yards on 81 kickoff returns with two touchdowns.

Last year Whyte established career highs in all rushing categories with 134 attempts, 866 yards and eight touchdowns while playing in 12 games. The 5-10, 200-pounder also averaged 28.7 yards on 19 kickoff returns with one TD.

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