Expect Bears to take backfield-by-committee approach only so far

Gene Chamberlain

The back-by-committee approach talked about earlier in the offseason by the Bears could be merely a hedge against rookie running back David Montgomery needing more time to fit into the offense.

The entire idea of running a committee with Montgomery, Mike Davis, Tarik Cohen and sometimes Cordarrelle Patterson seems good on paper, but barring injury the end result will be one will eventually get the lion's share.

It inevitably happens this way. Back by committee is a term carrying the connotation of equal workloads, but this isn't the case. It just means a few other backs will get carries besides one workhorse. But the starting back will still have many more than the others.

The Bears will keep talking about balancing the carries out because it helps everyone to be ready if they think they're getting a bigger workload.

"We just got a bunch of guys who are balanced backs, able to catch out of the backfield and really run that zone-read scheme that we like here," quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said during OTAs. "They’re just able to do it all. I think they’re all smart guys. They know how to make guys miss and make plays in the open field and that’s what we want.

"We've got a great competition going. It's really gonna help this offense just having three guys who can do everything with the ball in their hands."

But there is only one football.

Last year in the NFL, lead backs on teams averaged 196 carries a game. The running back with the next-most carries averaged 92 carries. There were 14 teams with the No. 1 back getting 50 percent more carries or more than the backup.

If the Bears' Mike Davis had shown he could be the type of back to haul the main load, he would have done it in San Francisco or Seattle. Not that Davis is a poor back, he just isn't the back who will carry an offense on his shoulders.

Instead, he might start initially, although all of this depends greatly on how fast David Montgomery develops.

Davis would be a good relief back, someone who can do everything they're asking of Montgomery without the workload. Having two backs of this type lets the Bears maintain offensive unpredictability.

They become somewhat more predictable when Cohen is in the backfield or even Patterson, because the likelihood is they'll run somewhere outside or pass. But with both Davis and Montgomery, anything is possible.

When Nagy was with Kansas City, the Chiefs never had a real backfield-by-committee approach except in 2015 when injuries forced their carries into a fairly even split. Jamaal Charles injured his knee after five games and wound up with 70 carries, Charcandrick West led with 160 carries and Spencer Ware had 72.

It's true the day of the workhorse back who runs 300 times is virtually over, as numbers of backs with 280-300 or more carries has dropped steadily since 2000. But the number of carries by the other backs on teams hasn't increased so dramatically to suggest there will ever be an equal balance.

The averages suggest something close to 200 carries for the No. 1 back next year and something close to 100 for the No. 2 back. Cohen can expect something a little less than last year because the Bears had only one back ahead of him last year. Now they'll have two.