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Bigger Workload for Khalil Herbert

Bears backup running back tries to follow up on 157-yard effort in relief with a starting role this week against the Giants.

  Khalil Herbert admitted to a little soreness after he had 20 carries for 157 yards in relief of David Montgomery Sunday during the 23-20 Bears win over Houston.

It had been a while since he had that kind of workload. 

It's possible he could really be sore this Monday.

Herbert will start against the Giants with Montgomery out due to an ankle injury, and it shapes up as a possible classic battle of running games between the NFL's second-leading ground gainer, Saquon Barkley, and the league's second-leading rushing team, the Bears.

The 20 carries were the second most Herbert has had in the 20 NFL games he's played. Herbert hadn't made more than nine carries over his previous 12 games, after Montgomery returned from a knee injury last year, and then in the first two games this season.

"He maybe didn't have as many touches in the first couple weeks and then now he comes and he's ready to rock and roll," offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. "When he got the opportunity, he took advantage of it."

Herbert thinks of his carries this year differently than during his rookie year, when he made two starts and carried extensively in two others following Montgomery's knee injury.

"It feels real different," Herbert said. "Just the detail we do with things. Since April the stuff we've put in and just being able to go through it and build this offense together, definitely feel more comfortable."

Last year was a different offense with a different coaching regime.

This wide zone blocking scheme now in use relies more on backs finding their own hole as interference develops across the field. 

The talent to actually see where he can go and exploit it is only partially based on scheme and practice.

"That's God's gift—just the ability I was given from God, but just really we work on those things throughout the week, too," Herbert said. "My (running backs) coach (David Walker) says, 'A lot of people say you can't teach vision.'

"But he works on it to help us get our eyes right in the right place and help the O-line put them in a place to succeed."

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The prevailing inside zone scheme last year didn't afford him as much time to find lanes, but he still impressed with 433 yards on 103 carries.

What this scheme seems to have done is give him more time to get moving before contact, allowing him to break more tackles. He has 3.1 yards after contact this year and has had 4.2 yards before contact. Last year, he had 2.4 yards before contact and 1.8 after contact according to Sportradar.

"I think coach Walk does a great job with those guys and training their eyes where they’re supposed to be," Getsy said. "But I think Khalil’s got a really cool patience about him that he’s able to kind of let things happen and make it feel like he’s not necessarily going full speed but he is, which then allows him to make cuts and read off the blocks of guys really well. 

"But to me what stood out this game compared to the other ones was his ability to make the first defender miss whether that was a stiff arm, whether that was running through a tackle, whether that was a make-you-miss move, I think that was the biggest improvement this week."

Herbert didn't really need to make many tacklers miss on the 11-yard TD run he made last week. He seemed to ride a wave of blockers to the goal line, with Larry Borom, Braxton Jones, Cole Kmet, Cody Whitehair and Khari Blasingame escorting him. 

"You see guys watching people pass me on the play, just straining to get their guys blocked," Herbert said. "That's something we've been preaching since we got here and it's showing up."

When Herbert got into Sunday's game and got 20 carries, it was a heavy workload, but he says he's up for more.

He had a lot more at Kansas once. 

In the fourth game of his sophomore career, Herbert carried 36 times and ran for 291 yards. Then he never got more than 21 carries again, even after transferring to Virginia Tech for his final year. 

 In fact, he never had more carries until he made 23 for 99 yards with the Bears last year in a win over the Raiders.

It wouldn't surprise coach Matt Eberflus if Herbert is capable of more, and the same is true with his blockers, because of all the running they did courtesy of their coach's HITS principle at camp.

"The offensive line, receivers, the whole offensive group, and really the whole football team has good stamina," Eberflus said. "It's because of how we practice, how we prepare.

"The guys have been pushing real hard since training camp and they've got that base down now, so once we get playing in the games and guys start blowing and going during games, then that stamina keeps building."

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