Far Greater Backfield Depth Now for Bears

Draft pick Khalil Herbert makes Bears backfield situation a much deeper one than they had in 2020 when they needed to use kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson as a key runner.
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About the only way a running back makes an NFL team if they're drafted in late rounds is first by making their mark on special teams.

It's going to be no different for Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert.

The sixth-round Bears draft pick, selected 217th overall last weekend, says he won't mind proving himself to the Bears coaching staff because his entire career seems to be about doing this.

"Everything I set out to do I did. So now I'm onto the next step," Herbert said.

He didn't prove enough at Kansas, or perhaps it's more accurate to say he didn't get the chance to prove as much while he played behind big-play threat Pooka Williams and made just 43 rushing attempts four games for 2019 after he had 113 carries the previous year. He more or less did what a player in the NFL does who takes a one-year contract, and bet on himself, by transferring to Virginia Tech for one more year.

He made his point with an 1,183-yard season on 155 attempts, both career highs. He had a career-high eight touchdowns rushing.

"Well, it didn’t prove anything to me," Herbert said. "It's something that I've always known but I think a lot of people just weren't able to see it. I think I was just able to show everybody what I could do."

In his last two years of college football, Herbert averaged 8.9 yards and 7.6 yards a carry and displayed a real knack for breaking longer runs. He is more of a one-cut runner, but often one-cut runners are power backs. He's a one-cut breakaway threat.

"Home run hitter, I'm able to do everything out of the backfield," he said. "Inside, outside zone, catch the ball. I feel like I can do everything. All-purpose back."

Now he'll try to apply this to a very crowded backfield situation. With starter David Montgomery and former Chiefs running back Damien Willams being joined by Tarik Cohen as he returns from an ACL tear, the chance for playing time immediately looks low for Herbert.

He'll also compete with holdover veterans Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce, as well as C.J. Marable, an undrafted high-energy type from Coastal Carolina. It's a much different situation than last year, when they were so short on backs that return man Cordarrelle Patterson had to start as a back against the Vikings in a 19-13 loss at Soldier Field.

Herbert likes to pattern himself after former Chargers great Ladainian Tomlinson.

"Just the type of runner he (was), he's able to do everything," Herbert said. "I want to pride myself on being able to do everything."

Herbert displayed the type of athleticism to do this in his pro day. He ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, just 0.04 seconds off the time of Tarik Cohen. The 5-foot-9, 212-pound back also showed good strength with 21 repetitions at 225 pounds in the bench, and his combination of agility and quickness came out on the very high side at 6.97 seconds in the three-cone drill.

"I'm just coming ready to work," Herbert said. "Whatever they need me to do, I'm going to be able to do it. I'm just ready to work."

Of course, this will include special teams.

"Also provides a lot of value on special teams, that was kind of a theme for us in that area of the draft — a good kick returner," Bears GM Ryan Pace said of Herbert.

It could go beyond just returning kicks, although he has done this well.

"I covered punts, I did punt return as a (freshman), rushing the kicker, onside recovery. Onside. The only one I didn’t do is kickoffs (coverage)," he said. "I've done a lot of special teams.

"I take a lot of pride in special teams. That's one of the biggest things we pride ourselves in at VT. Being able to help out on special teams one way or another is big. I feel like I can help in any aspect of special teams."

The Bears need kick return help especially because Cordarrelle Patterson left in free agency to sign in Atlanta. Anthony Miller might be the best return man left on their roster, and the Bears haven't really wanted to use him in this way after he suffered a pair of shoulder injuries doing returns. Herbert averaged 26.9 yards per return on 16 kick returns in his only Virginia tech season, the first college season he really became a serious return man.

"Just able to get the ball past the 25 yard line, I'm able to take kicks back," he said. "I feel like I'm able to make big plays in that aspect of the game."

It seemed Herbert just needed the chance to show what he really could do.

"They did a great job of allowing me to go out there and play and use me in a lot of different ways and get the ball in my hands," he said. "I really think they believed in me to do what I can do on the field. That helped me a lot."

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