Why Bears Can Be on the Cutting Edge

The first four Bears draft picks all can help them join into what has become the trend around the NFL.
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The first four Bears draft picks can help them be part of a trend in the NFL.

Running the football is back in vogue, whether it's the traditional approach with a running back or the jet sweep game or even quarterback runs with scrambles or designed plays.

Both tackles Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom can call run blocking real strengths. Pace pointed this out with both.

Jenkins was part of the line which helped Chuba Hubbard lead the nation in rushing.

"The running lanes he opens up on a regular basis is real," Pace said. "And what I think is cool is sometimes you see these big linemen and they create movement at the point of attack on the line of scrimmage, but then they're limited in space. They might be stiff at the second level or they can't get downfield. Teven can do both. He can drive defensive linemen off the ball, then he can also chip, release to the second level and make a block in space on a linebacker, which is encouraging to see."

Borom did the same type of thing as a right tackle, and even guard at times blocking for Chargers running back Larry Rountree.

"Larry Borom from Missouri, just a versatile, big, powerful guy," Pace said. "Really transformed his body this spring when you look at. Moves really well on tape for his size. He lost of weight through the spring process and at his pro day we thought he moved around really well. That gives us confidence that his best football is ahead of him.

"He can play tackle. He can play guard. There's some versatility with him."

Quarterback Justin Fields has the big arm for the passing game but has mobility to scramble. With 4.44-second speed in the 40, he can run the read-option out of shotgun with an RPO approach, and burn a cheating edge rusher for a big game. He also can run it out of a bootleg.

"He's very, very athletic, as you know," Pace said. "He's big. He's strong, he's got running skills."

The Bears talked at length about how Fields wasn't just a pocket passer but a fast player and tough player.

"I mean, this guy's toughness on a scale of 1-10 is an 11," Pace said. "And you just love that about him. Oh, and by the way, he runs a 4.44. You throw that all in together, and it just feels good."

Jenkins and Borom as strong run-blocking tackles can be part of the outside zone blocking scheme the Bears ran late last season which helped bolster the yardage of David Montgomery. The key to the outside zone is the back making his first read off the tackle to the side of the field he's running, then look inward.

And of course, running back Khalil Herbert as a ball carrier can eventually contribute as a relief back for Montgomery.

All of this puts the Bears in the middle of the NFL trend.

Last year teams averaged 118.9 yards per rush and ran it 26.9 times a game. The average number of rushes in the league hasn't been higher than 26.9 since 2012.

Even bigger, the 118.9 yards rushing per team, per game, is the highest the NFL has seen since Neal Anderson was the starting Bears running back in 1988. It was 121.4 yards that year.

Before 1988 it was common for the league's average rushing performance to be 120 yards or higher, and actually in the 1970s in the 130s and 140s.

No one is thinking the Bears will take it that direction, but being able to run effectively when they need to run is a key. Coach Matt Nagy has often been criticized for going away from the run in play calling, but if he knows the end result is a bigger gain with a run then he'll likely turn to the ground more often.

The outside zone has been popularized by teams like San Francisco, Green Bay and Tennessee over the last few years but it's a blocking method used for years effectively back to the beginning of coach Mike Shananan's days in Denver.

The biggest reason for the climb is the number of quarterbacks who can pick up yards with their feet, and in this regard the Bears can be on the cutting edge with Fields playing. Fields ran it 218 times in two seasons at Ohio State, including 81 times in eight games last year. It's not going to be that many in the NFL, but as soon as Fields is playing the Bears will be able to count this as a threat again after having the option with Mitchell Trubisky.

"Well, we can all see that he's a complete quarterback that has a ton of intangibles," Bears coach Matt Nagy said of Fields. "He's a threat every time the football is in his hands as a passer and a runner, but yet he makes really good decisions."

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