Historically, running back has been a position of strength for the Chicago Bears. But in 2019, the Bears didn't get as much production out of their backfield as they would have liked.
As a team, the Bears rushed for 1,458 yards (with 8 touchdowns) last season, with running backs accounting for 1,135 of those yards. One of those backs, Mike Davis, is no longer with the team. The Bears averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, which ranked last in the NFC and 29th in the NFL.
Some of the lack of success on the ground can be attributed to head coach Matt Nagy's affinity for the passing game. The rest can be attributed to the Bears mostly running out of passing/spread formations and trick plays instead of power formations. And injuries along the offensive line certainly didn't help. But with questions surrounding the quarterback position this year, and with the offensive line needing to make some adjustments, the Bears will need a stronger effort out of their tailbacks in 2020.
The Bears have just four backs on the training camp roster after releasing undrafted free agent Napoleon Maxwell in early August. Here are the four running backs that the Bears will lean on this season.
The first pick (third round) of the Bears' 2019 draft class was the team's leading rusher last season. He posted 889 yards with six touchdowns while averaging 3.7 yards per attempt. He certainly could have had more had the Bears put a bigger focus on the rushing attack. But his numbers weren't too bad for a rookie; he also pitched in 185 receiving yards and proved that he can handle the load at the pro level.
Montgomery's power-running style works better out of under-center formations as opposed to the various shotgun packages that Nagy prefers. If the Bears can put a few more of those plays in their playbook, then Montgomery can lead the way and take pressure off of the passing game.
Have opposing teams figured out how to contain "The Human Joystick?" That's what many people believed last season, as Cohen was held to just 213 rushing yards, 456 receiving yards, and 325 return yards. He only scored three touchdowns all season (all receiving) and averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, 5.8 yards per catch, and 9.2 yards per return.
In many instances last year, Cohen opted not to run full speed ahead and instead focused more on sideline-to-sideline running and trick moves to dodge defenders. This approach actually allowed defenders to stop him after short gains. If Cohen wants to get back to his form from '18 (1,602 all-purpose yards, 8 total touchdowns), he needs to use more of his pure speed to beat tackles. A more effective Cohen makes this Bears offense far more dangerous.
The undrafted free agent out of Oregon State has a prime opportunity in front of him. The Bears need a solid No. 3 behind Montgomery and Cohen, and this is where Pierce could find his niche. His skill set is identical to Cohen's (rushing, receiving, returning), as he totaled 3,307 all-purpose yards, with 17 total touchdowns, for the Beavers from 2016 to '19. Pierce will get every opportunity to prove that he belongs on the 53-man roster.
Nall is more of a fullback on this team (6-3, 239), but his future moving forward will depend on two things: how many tight ends the team decides to keep and if Nall can continue to be a strong contributor on special teams. Blocking and special teams have been Nall's forte, as he only has eight regular-season rushing yards to his credit. Most of his offensive production has come during preseason games (which have been canceled this year), and not helping matters is the fact that fullbacks are few and far between in today's NFL.
On top of that, Nagy doesn't use fullbacks often within his offense. Nall's experience in this offense, however, will help this unit. His skill set (rushing, receiving, blocking) will be especially useful if the Bears put more effort into the run game, but his special teams work will ultimately decide if gets another roster spot.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of chicagobears.com)