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Tough Running Ahead for Khalil Herbert

Bears running back enjoyed to strong efforts to start as he replaces injured David Montgomery but Tampa Bay's defense is an entirely greater challenge.

Khalil Herbert anticipated the flood of reaction in the form of text messages from friends and family last week after his first NFL start, so the rookie Bears running back took precautions.

"It wasn't too bad," Herbert said. "I got a new number. So my family and friends, that's about it."

Some callers among friends want to talk fantasy football with Herbert.

"It's kind of funny, it's surreal," Herbert said. "It's like, 'oh, I picked you up this week,' this, that and the other.

"It's kind of funny because we always played fantasy and this year I didn't play obviously because I've kind of got a lot going on."

What he has going on is living in his own fantasy as starting Bears running back, at least until David Montgomery and/or Damien Williams return.

The 97-yard effort in his first start against a strong Green Bay defense proved a good tuneup for facing an extremely strong run defense this week at Tampa Bay, in addition to helping out those friends who actually did pick him up for their fantasy teams.

"A couple of my friends said they did," Herbert said. "They've been sending me screenshots and stuff. I don't play fantasy but they do."

He did, back in high school.

"I've won like three of my leagues," he said.

A fantasy aficionado would advise a "sit" no doubt for Herbert this week because the Bears face the No. 1 run defense in the league in defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay. The presence of massive Vita Vea inside and a strong front seven overall has the Bears examining their approach.

"Just famine, famine, feast is something we talk about in the running back room," Herbert said. "You might get your 3-yard gains, 4-yard gains, but eventually one is going to burst."

Against the Buccaneers it's more like getting 1-yard and 2-yard gains and then hoping to break a 6-yarder.

"So just taking those 3 yards, taking what they give you and then making them pay when they mis-fit (tackling lanes) or something like that," Herbert said. "We love challenges so the O-line, we're getting ready to go down there and do what we do best—run the ball.

"It's definitely a challenge. We'll see if we’re up for it."

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The surprise in all this might not have been success for Herbert with his hard-running, cutback style as much as it was a drastic departure from what the Bears had been doing with the running attack.

They were using Montgomery, spelled by Williams. Suddenly, they didn't have that one-two punch of complementary running styles.

"I wouldn't put it all on just the fact that there was one running back because that would make it sound like Khalil couldn't do it himself," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. "I thought he did a fine job.

"We do feel good about the (backs) group and before what ended up happening Sunday, I think it was complementary. I don't disagree with you. But you have to find ways to do it, and there are a lot of times teams have done it with one running back."

The Bears rolled through the 70s and 80s that way, for certain. That was a different era, though.

"We felt going into the game the guys we had active and ready to roll were ready to roll," Lazor said. "And it didn't prevent us from trying what we wanted to do in the run game."

Only Herbert carried among Bears backs.

Their offense seemed to take a turn for the better when they ran more against Detroit and kept it up against the Raiders in a win when Herbert had 75 yards, a game when Williams was injured. Their offense hasn't really flourished in a situation when they had to pass.

So the obvious question is whether they can move the ball at all against Tampa Bay considering the Buccaneers usually stuff the run. It happened last year when they had 35 yards rushing but Nick Foles engineered enough passing offense to win 20-19.

"What we did the last three games as far as the run volume had us at two wins," Lazor said. "And then we went into the game and we had, whatever setup we had there near the end of the game, we were close but we couldn't finish it. And in the NFL you better be able to finish games with the lead by running the ball.

"And you better be able to score passing the ball. So I think facts are that we just didn't. So can we? Well. I'm sure we'll find out Sunday."

Herbert feels ready to do his part if it means passing, even if they haven't explored this much.

"Definitely," he said. "It's something I work on every day, just being able to be that checkdown or catch the ball in space—go downfield and catch the ball. Be that all-around back. It's something I work on every day."

No doubt those fantasy owners he knows would love it, too. The receiving touchdowns count just like the rushing TDs.

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