Ryan Nall has suddenly become a very key player for the Chicago Bears.
After a few years when he was a fan favorite who didn't play much, the 6-foot-2, 239-pound back from Oregon State could be thrust into the season opener as a starter due to the injury suffered by David Montgomery.
Montgomery is to miss two to four weeks with a groin strain suffered when he cut and fell at the start of Wednesday's practice, according to a report by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Montgomery's loss would leave the Bears with Ryan Nall starting at running back in the opener, Tarik Cohen as the third-down back and Cordarrelle Patterson as a change-of-pace runner. Rookie Artavis Pierce could figure into the mix, as well.
The limited practice time left—which became even more limited when players decided not to practice Thursday in reaction to the continuing racial strife—probably means Montgomery couldn't be 100 percent by the start of the regular season in 18 days.
It can't be completely ruled out but would seem unlikely.
As a result, GM Ryan Pace may need to bring in another running back to train in the offense for depth's sake. This player still wouldn't have time to know all about the offense or perform many duties like Nall can.
"Ryan is a really versatile player for us," Bears running backs coach Charles London said. "He's done a lot of this stuff a lot in his career going back to college.
"He played a little H-back/tight end type role in college, he played fullback, he played running back … so we're just trying to maximize his talents there."
The Bears were lining Nall up as an H-back or fullback type at times in practice, when he wasn't taking second-team running back reps as a Montgomery replacement.
They obviously like his run-blocking skills from this move, but more important now is Nall's pass blocking.
One of the first drills run after Montgomery was taken from the side of the field to Halas Hall on a cart Wednesday was a running back pass-blocking drill against on-rushing linebackers. It wasn't pretty for much of the drill as Patterson especially experience trouble. Pierce was destroyed on another blitz.
One rush by Isaiah Irving so devastated his blocker that he was apologizing afterward to the back.
So Nall can be of help in this way.
"Ryan was able to get his feet wet a little last year being active about halfway through the year, didn't play a ton of snaps on offense but he was an integral part there and the preparation and we expect big things from Ryan," London said.
It's obviously not an experienced group behind Montgomery, who has only one season in the books himself.
Nall has made only two NFL carries after being on practice squad for a year and a half. Obviously Pierce has none. Cohen is coming off a season when his 64 runs were a career low. He hasn't been an every-down back throughout his time in the league. Patterson is a wide receiver turned running back.
None of this has changed since training camp started and at the outset general manager Ryan Pace was asked about how comfortable he felt with a running back group where Montgomery was really the only experienced, all-purpose player.
"I don't feel that way about the running back room," Pace said July 28. "I feel like with David, we're going to continue to see him progress and we're really happy with the way that he performed last year. Definitely arrow up.
"Tarik, everything that we can gather as far as his mental mindset right now, his approach to this season, we're excited about Tarik. I like his approach. You factor in Ryan Nall, who we like, who's growing here in our organization. So I'm excited about our running back room. I think there's obviously some new wrinkles this season in regards to Matt, his staff and what they'll do. So I would disagree. I think it's a talented room and we like our depth in there."
The free agent depth available hasn't changed much since the end of July either. Former Falcons back Devonta Freeman remains the top available player. The Bears had former Seahawks back C.J. Prosise in for a workout last week.
Detroit was 21st last year in rushing yards allowed and 10th in yards allowed per attempt, although their front and linebackers have changed since last year. The Lions held the Bears to 88 and 81 yards rushin in their two games last year.