Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery returned to practice Thursday in advance of the Bears’ Week 9 Monday night matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which officially opens the three-week window for him to return from injured reserve. Montgomery has been on the shelf since Week 4 when he suffered a sprained knee against the Detroit Lions.
At the time of Montgomery’s injury, the third-year back was beginning to elevate his standing in the league as one of the NFL’s top young running backs. He totaled 309 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry during the first month of the season, which is why his injury was viewed as such a big blow to the offense.
Fortunately for the Bears, Montgomery’s injury hasn’t been that big of a deal. Rookie sixth-round pick Khalil Herbert has been just as effective as the team’s starting running back over the last four weeks. He’s run for 353 yards and one touchdown (4.3 yards per carry) in Montgomery’s stead, and in some respects, looked like a more explosive and consistent north-south runner. Herbert’s patient yet decisive style has worked well behind the Bears’ offensive line and his impressive tackle-breaking power and contact balance have contributed to his notable end-of-game totals.
Chicago’s backfield still belongs to Montgomery, for now. He’s widely regarded as one of the team’s best leaders, and when healthy, there’s no doubt he’s one of the most talented players on the roster regardless of position. Still, Herbert has done enough over the last few weeks to pull some carries away from Montgomery, giving the Bears one of the more impressive backfield tandems in the NFC.
The good news for Chicago is that the offense won’t miss a beat when Montgomery needs a breather. And perhaps Herbert has provided the coaches with more options in the playbook because of his different-yet-effective style. The more changeups the Bears can throw at opposing defenses, the more productive the ground game will be.
Montgomery’s expected return is good news for Justin Fields. He’s a good pass protector and quality receiver. In fact, Montgomery has the highest pass-blocking grade on the Bears (85.9), per Pro Football Focus. Adding a sledgehammer in the backfield to take on opposing pass rushers is an obvious positive for the rookie quarterback. It’s worth noting that 2022 is a contract year for Montgomery, too, so if he wants to earn a nice second deal before the start of next season, he’ll need a strong finish over the final nine games, which includes keeping Fields safe as much as it does gaining yards on the ground.
Montgomery probably won’t get the same workload he was receiving prior to his injury and Herbert’s emergence, but he’ll remain atop the depth chart and resume his role as the heartbeat of the offense very soon.