With running backs Khalil Herbert and David Montgomery along with quarterback Justin Fields, the Bears offense has built the top rushing attack in the NFL. But on Tuesday, Herbert landed on injured reserve after he left last Sunday's game against the Lions with a hip injury. The Bears will be without their most productive back for at least four weeks as the second-year pro has rushed for 643 yards and four touchdowns on 108 carries.
While Montgomery, who has 115 carries for 434 yards and two touchdowns, will likely see an increased workload, rookie Trestan Ebner expects to be more involved with the offense starting Sunday in Atlanta.
Ebner has played on offense in four games this season, totaling 18 carries for 46 yards. When Montgomery went down with an ankle injury in Week 3 against the Texans, then missed Week 4's game against the Giants, Ebner saw the bulk of his production.
"I got some experience with this earlier in the season, so I know what it's like to be down one person," Ebner said. "So I feel like we just handled it well, and we just kept it rolling. You just don't see a step off. And that's the biggest thing I try to focus on is not letting people notice the step off, like, 'ah, he picked up right where Khalil left off' and just keep it pushing like that."
The rookie feels more prepared for a larger workload on the offense now than he did leading up to Week 4 in New York. The key for Ebner is not changing up his preparation this week or doing anything different as he's "been prepping as if I was the starter."
Some of that comfortability with an increased role comes from consistently playing on special teams this season. Earning those snaps has allowed him to learn how fast the game is played in the NFL and creates confidence "knowing I can play at this level."
"Just the speed of things, the physicality of things, you hitting people, people hitting you," Ebner said. "It's not like the only time you're getting contact is in practice, you're actually getting it from somebody that's trying to take your head off in the game. And so I feel like that's a lot better than just getting thrown out into the fire. So I feel like that helps and then it's obviously a difference, offense and special teams, but I feel like it's better to have played a little than not played at all."
The Bears practiced among the flurries at Halas Hall Wednesday afternoon as they get ready for Sunday's matchup with the Falcons in Atlanta.
Still, Ebner admitted he'd be lying if he said there weren't any nerves heading into this week's game against the Falcons because he doesn't "want to let anybody down, any of my teammates down."
However, coach Matt Eberflus expressed confidence in the sixth-round pick out of Baylor. Eberflus liked what he saw from Ebner in the preseason, including a 12-yard touchdown catch, a 27-yard run and a 34-yard kickoff return in the first exhibition game against the Chiefs, and complimented his speed, vision and ability to cut back.
Fields also feels comfortable about Ebner fitting into the offense and his increased growth with the system.
"Trestan, he's a great athlete and great running back," Fields said. "I think the biggest thing with him is him learning our plays, the motion shifts, because our plays are wordy, so him just kind of digesting that as a rookie coming in. And in protection too, knowing where he has to go if we get four weak, four to a side. So just knowing his job. I think he's grown since Week 1 or from even the preseason now. He's an explosive running back, he's great with his hands so I'm excited to see what he does this week."
Another role Ebner is ready to take on is run or pass blocking, something he's constantly been working on between college and the NFL. The rookie said he feels "confident in knowing who to block and where to go," and is learning to be more patient.
"It's a big role, because with Justin you can be pass-blocking and then soon you turn into a run blocker," Ebner said. "So you want to fight even more to stay on your block, because that can be a 60-yard play just waiting to happen. So it's really important with him."