Asked to name a signature moment this season for David Montgomery, a week after he scored two touchdowns in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, running backs coach David Walker paused andthought about it.
“Some of my favorite plays are when he’s able to make something out of nothing using a combination of power and agility,” Walker said. “There’s a run versus Houston I can remember on the sideline, a short-yardage play where he runs through a guy. In New England, dragging defenders after contact. The first Green Bay game, we run a power and he rips it off, makes a guy miss and finishes. Those types of runs are the ones that come to my mind in terms of his value to our team.
“He epitomizes what we have become throughout the course of the year.”
Montgomery has endeared himself to Matt Eberflus’ coaching staff much the same way he did with Matt Nagy and his assistants after the Chicago Bears traded up to draft him in the third round in 2019.
It’s not premature to wonder what the future holds for Montgomery, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Saturday’s game against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field could be part of his last stand with the organization.
The running back position is loaded with talents set to reach the open market. Topping the list are Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders, who leads the NFL with 1,495 rushing yards, and three other backs who are among the top eight in yardage: Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants, Miles Sanders of the Eagles and Tony Pollard of the Dallas Cowboys.
Point out to Montgomery that it is a talented, crowded group and he nods.
“Mine being one of them,” he said.
Montgomery has 694 rushing yards with five touchdowns and is averaging 4 yards per carry. He has 28 receptions — 13 in the last four games — for 282 yards and two scores. Quarterback Justin Fields leads the Bears with 1,000 rushing yards and Khalil Herbert, due back Saturday after missing four games with a hip injury, has 643 rushing yards and is averaging six yards per carry.
The Bears are the only team in the league with three players to have more than 100 rushing attempts, and it will be fascinating to see how general manager Ryan Poles prioritizes personnel moves on offense that will shape the roster.
“He’s a rock,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said of Montgomery. “He’s comes to work every single day. He can handle a lot mentally, so we do a lot of different stuff with him. … He’s awesome, tough as nails. You see the way he finishes every run. He’s one of those guys that you love having at the forefront of your program.”
Second contracts for running backs have been rare for the Bears. They signed Tarik Cohen to a three-year, $17.25 million extension in September 2020, one week before he blew out his right knee returning a punt against the Atlanta Falcons. The only lead running back the team has re-upped since 2000 is Matt Forte, a second-round pick in 2008. He received a four-year, $32 million extension in 2012 to avoid playing that season under the franchise tag, a wise investment as he finished out that deal, playing eight seasons for the Bears. He ranks second in club history with 8,602 rushing yards, is second with 486 receptions and seventh with 4,116 receiving yards.
The only other back since 2000 to play beyond a rookie contract with the team is Adrian Peterson, a sixth-round pick in 2002 who was kept around for his value on special teams.
The glut of productive running backs headed for free agency could make it a buyer’s market at a position teams sometimes prefer to fill through the draft. The Bears found Herbert in the sixth round in 2021, a nice discovery by former GM Ryan Pace. Surely they have big plans for him in the future.
Getsy likes having a 1-2 punch at the position with running backs that have different strengths, so whether it’s re-signing Montgomery or finding a back that complements Herbert in free agency or the draft likely looms as a priority.
An AFC personnel evaluator listed Jacobs, Barkley and Kareem Hunt of the Cleveland Browns as the top-three pending free agents at the position. He added a caveat with Hunt, explaining some teams might not consider him because of past off-field issues. Hunt was suspended for eight games in 2019 after a disturbing video surfaced showing him attacking a woman.
Pollard has been more productive than Ezekiel Elliott this season but there are questions about whether the 6-foot, 209-pounder can handle the load of a true workhorse back.
“I like Montgomery but he’s not a breakaway speed guy,” the personnel man said. “He’s more quick than fast. I don’t think he has a ton of value on third down. He’s more of a base-down guy with a degree of third-down value.”
Montgomery has proved to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield. He caught 54 passes in 2020 and is averaging 10.1 yards per reception this season. He has been targeted 33 times and caught 28 passes with Fields just starting to use the running back position more in the passing game.
The Bears are on pace for 3,177 rushing yards, which would rank third all time. The 1948 San Francisco 49ers rushed for 3,663 and the 2019 Baltimore Ravens 3,296. The Bears are averaging 186.9 rushing yards per game, which would be a franchise record. The 1984 team, led by Walter Payton, averaged 185.9 rushing yards.
“That’s super dope, especially being a part of it with Justin and Khalil,” Montgomery said. “It’s super cool.”
The reaction epitomizes Montgomery’s priorities. He references teammates when talking about achievements for an offense that has pounded the ball on the ground. In the months to come, we’ll learn how Poles and his staff feel about him.
Matt Milano, Bills weak-side linebacker
Information for this report was obtained from NFL scouts.
Matt Milano, at 6-feet, 223 pounds, is in his sixth season in Buffalo, drafted in the fifth round in 2017 from Boston College. The Bills signed Milano to a $41.5 million, four-year extension in 2021.
Milano was the AFC’s defensive player of the week after a 31-23 win over the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 20, finishing with 12 tackles, three stops for loss and a fumble recovery. He ranks second on the Bills with 85 tackles and has six quarterback hits, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. With the Bears likely planning to lean heavily on their running game, Milano will be a key player Saturday.
“He’s a top-five off-the-ball linebacker in the league,” the scout said. “The Bills are a unique team because their base defense is nickel personnel with Taron Johnson as their nickel. The reason they can do that is more because of Milano and his coverage ability. He’s really good in coverage, gets depth, can match people in coverage, run with seams and corner routes and he’s also excellent versus the run game.
“The reason I hold him in such regard is he can really do everything. He never has to come off the field. He can pressure and he’s the guy that knocked out (New York Jets quarterback) Mike White, going inside on a stunt and busting his ribs up. He is physical at the point of attack and really has good change-of-direction ability. This guy is one of the most underrated players in the entire league. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves in Buffalo. He’s got three-down traits and is playing at a really high level.”
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