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Building a Stable of Bears Backs

The Bears would like to have great depth at running back but as of now they only know of two dependable ball carriers and a lot of potential speed.

It's never a bad idea to have a stable of running backs, as both last year and the 2020 season showed for the Bears. 

This was the tendency for the Green Bay Packers offense Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy coached in under Matt LaFleur, whether it was Jamaal Williams or AJ Dillon or both as backups behind Aaron Jones.

The Bears nearly ran out of running backs in 2020 after David Montgomery had a concussion, and they thought they had enough backs that year. Then last year they thought they had this depth issue addressed and it almost happened again when both Montgomery and Damien Williams went out and later Khalil Herbert. None of those proved lengthy absences but did enough to help derail struggling offenses.

The Bears like to think they have running back depth now, but this remains to be seen.

At least there is one quality to the backs behind Montgomery they can appreciate and that is speed.

Khalil Herbert, Darrynton Evans and 2022 sixth-round draft pick Trestan Ebner ran sub-4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash and are faster than Montgomery, who is easily the biggest back they have at 5-foot-11, 224 pounds.

Running backs coach David Walker needed very little time to appreciate what they have in Herbert, who gained 443 yards last year mostly when Montgomery was out with a knee sprain.

"To me, he's kind of shown up and made some good runs and good decisions with the ball and he's a decisive young man," Walker said.

This is especially desirable in the new Bears offense because backs running behind the wide zone blocking scheme need to pick their hole and then go. They can't hesitate or juke, and in this way Herbert might be even better suited to the offense than Montgomery.

"There's not a lot of when he's got the ball (like) some guys try to pick and poke and wait to see what's going to happen," Walker said of Herbert. "He's very decisive."

What Walker has seen is "...a bit of burst, a little change of direction. So he will just continue to get better, continue to improve.

"The moment won't ever be too big for him, he's got that kind of makeup. I expect him to be able to go out there, 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."

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The perception of Ebner is the Bears brought him in as a possible third-down receiver type and he would compete with Darrynton Evans for time in this regard. 

They signed Evans just before free agency after the Tennessee Titans cut him following two seasons of injuries. He had been their 2020 third-round pick.

However, Ebner is closer to the size of an every down back than Evans. In fact, Ebner is even bigger than Herbert, who is 5-9, 212.

Ebner is 5-11, 215 and the reason many think of him as a possible receiving or third-down back in the tradition of Tarik Cohen is because he caught a lot of passes at Baylor. Despite those receptions, Walker couldn't say whether Ebner is even the best pass catcher in the group.

"That's a good question," Walker said. "I don't know if I have that answer yet. He obviously has experience from his college tape. You see him do those things.

"Being around the guys that are here, they may have not had those opportunities in the past but they seem to catch the ball pretty well and pretty natural. He's probably had more exposure in his college career doing that but I don't know if I'd say he's the best guy doing it."

Ebner caught 127 passes for 1,515 yards and 11 touchdowns at Baylor, but it wasn't as if he showed great hands. He just had a knack for breaking off longer plays after making a catch.

Nor did he prove to be a go-to receiver type out of the backfield because he never had a season with more than 29 receptions. He simply caught a consistent amount each year.

The thing Evans seems able to do better than all of the backs is run fast. His 40 time in 2020 was 4.41 seconds, faster than Ebner's 4.43, Herbert's 4.46 and even the 4.42 turned in by their former versatile threat, Cohen.

About the only quality their running back core lacks is a bigger power tailback for short yardage or as an occasional receiver. Signing a fullback, Khari Blasingame, made up for this somewhat. Not that they would use him as a ball carrier extensively, but he has caught 10 passes as a receiver with the Titans.

The also have undrafted De'Montre Tuggle working in with the group, another undersized back at 5-10, 198, but effective overall at Ohio U. with 6.3 yards a carry and 1,851 yards on 292 runs. He made only 34 catches for 283 yards and three touchdowns.

"We've got a group of skilled athletes that can make plays as runners and as receivers, if you're talking about the backs specifically, so we'll try to utilize everybody's skill set in a certain way and we're going to force guys to learn a lot," Walker said. 

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