Bears’ running backs can help Justin Fields excel in Year 2:

Montgomery, Bears’ running backs can help Fields excel in Year 2 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – A good running game can often be a young quarterback’s best friend.

The Bears hope David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, and their rushing attack can be a reliable support system for Justin Fields during a critical second season.

“Our run game has to complement our pass, and vice versa,” Bears running backs coach David Walker told reporters Tuesday after the Bears’ second OTA practice. “Justin will be a much better quarterback if we can be productive running the football. I think everybody understands that and knows that. So we’re trying to put a premium on both, really, and the offense is set up, so it kind of marries one another.The things that we’re doing from a run game marry the things we’re going to do from a pass standpoint, the type of people we’ve tried to acquire fit certain roles in this particular offense.

“So, once again, Justin’s going to play better if we as an offense can run the ball effectively. That’s going to open up a lot of stuff for him.”

The tip of the spear in the Bears’ effort to run the rock effectively is Montgomery, who is entering his fourth season with the Bears.

The 24-year-old is coming off a season where he rushed for 849 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games. Per Pro Football Focus, Montgomery ranked 16th in the NFL last season in missed tackles forced with 38. Of the 15 backs ahead of him, all but two played more games than him last season.

Walker and the Bears know how vital Montgomery will be to their offensive goals in 2022. He’s been a reliable back during the early part of his career, but he’s hungry for more.

“As a person, serious guy, wants to get better,” Walker said of Montgomery. “The thing I like about David is he does not feel like he has arrived yet. You know what I mean? Some of the guys that have been in the league for a while think they have arrived. He’s trying to learn from his standpoint. I believe I’m coach three in four seasons for him, so he’s had to really learn every offseason something different and new.

“He’s doing a good job with it. But I really like his makeup in terms of wanting to get better, pushing himself to get better. He has high standards, and we are going to do everything we can to reach those standards on a daily basis. “

While Montgomery figures to get the lion’s share of the work in the Bears’ backfield, he’ll have help.

Second-year back Khalil Herbert acquitted himself well last season. The Virginia Tech product rushed for 433 yards and two touchdowns while catching 14 passes for 96 yards. There’s good reason to expect Herbert to have a more significant role this season, something he’s already showing he can handle.

“The moment won’t ever be too big for him. He’s got that kind of makeup,” Walker said. “I expect him to be able to go out there, and if D-Mo is on the sideline and he has to be in the game, he will do a good job as well as he did last year.”

Fields’ growth should be the primary focus for the 2022 Bears. If they exit the season knowing Fields is a franchise guy, everything else will be gravy.

It’s clear offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme, whatever it might look like, will use the running game to make life easier for his talented, young quarterback.

“I mean whether it’s a zone, whether it’s a gap, whatever running scheme we do, if you have success running the football, that opens up windows everywhere,” quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said of the Bears’ planned rushing attack. “It forces the defense to play a certain way, and then you can exploit off that.”

We expect Getsy’s offense to be some variation of the Shanahan tree.

The Shanahan tree, of which there are many offshoots now, likes to use the success of the wide-zone run to set up bootleg action for throws over the middle of the field that are set up for run-after-the-catch opportunities.

The 49ers are the gold standard for that offense. While Kyle Shanahan has added some wrinkles with the emergence of “wide back” Deebo Samuel, the 2019 49ers, who rode their running game to Super Bowl LIV, are a great example of the simple effectiveness of the wide-zone scheme.

With question marks across the offensive line and a relatively unproven group of wide receivers, the Bears need their running game to be efficient and effective.

Getsy’s offense promises a symbiotic relationship between the run and the pass. As one thrives, so does the other.

Whether or not Montgomery and the running game hold up their end of the bargain will play a huge role in determining how big of a leap Fields takes in Year 2.

If the running game is reliable, Fields should be able to operate more freely. If it fails to gain traction, Fields will have an even heavier burden on his shoulders.

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