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David Montgomery Runs as Bears Offense Walks

With the Bears offense struggling overall, running back David Montgomery thrived and it only fuels optimism he'll pad his numbers greatly if they ever open up the attack.

In many ways, it's easy to look at Bears running back David Montgomery and see a backfield version of Allen Robinson. 

Whereas Robinson fights through difficulties to continually make contested catches, Montgomery draws a crowd on every carry and he keeps coming. 

After only two NFL seasons, he's already enjoyed what many fantasy players would call a "breakout" season in 2020.

However, Montgomery's abilities barely seem to have been put on display. 

"David, specifically, he's got a high desire to be great and that makes it easy as a coach coming in here and working with him," new Bears running backs coach Michael Pitre said upon his first meetings with the third-year back. "He's asking great questions in meetings. He's always looking at how he can improve his game and take that next step."

Montgomery easily could have been beaten down and disillusioned after his first year in the league. 

Good running backs frequently make impacts faster than players at other positions, and his was only a marginal debut at 889 yards on 242 carries in 2019. He had been touted as an all-purpose back but made only 25 rookie receptions. 

Necessity being the mother of invention, Montgomery became more of a receiver out of the backfield last year after Tarik Cohen suffered a torn ACL. The Bears lost explosiveness but gained experience for Montgomery as a target and an effective one. 

In his second year as a ball carrier, he learned to better attack the holes rather than hesitate too much or move out of the hole. 

The result was a statistical climb like those often seen in ball carriers from Year 2 to Year 3 rather than in Year 1 to 2, when many backs who excel as rookies tend to take a step back.

Montgomery ran only five more times in 2020 than in 2019 but had a 20% increase in yards gained to 1,070. He experienced a 108% increase in receptions from 25 to 54 and averaged 8.1 yards per reception, 0.7 more despite the fact he had more than twice as many catches. 

His longest run from scrimmage was 25 yards longer as he had an 80-yard carry that seemed to counter the predraft suggestion he lacked breakaway speed.

Montgomery's offseason, off-field commitment frequently gets cited as one of his great strengths.

Before Pitre even came to the Bears as a replacement for Charles London, he was using Montgomery film clips as an example for his players at Oregon State.

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"I've studied a lot of NFL film and so he was a guy, through studying, really liked his running style and so he was a guy that I used as a lot of examples with some of my young guys in previous spots. 

"And so I wasn't surprised by the production he's had just throughout his career of what he did obviously before he got to the Bears. But I just think he's looking forward to building off of that and has a lot of confidence moving forward."

The numbers for backs will go up naturally with the added game on the roster, but for Montgomery there are limits because Cohen is back and he also has a capable backup now in Damien Williams. The depth in the running back corps is even greater with Khalil Herbert added into the mix.

So Montgomery might get only about the same number of carries. It's his production which could spike.

Montgomery managed to move his yards per carry up 16% last year despite one of the poorest stretches of run blocking by the Bears in recent memory. Their line problems resulted form injury and COVID-19, leading to one game where Charles Leno Jr. was the only regular starting offensive lineman manning his regular position.

During those eight games from Week 3 against Atlanta through Week 10 against Tennessee, the Bears line could spring backs for only 3.1 yards a carry on 138 attempts. 

Consider then what Montgomery could get done with one more game, better blocking instead of half a season of being stone-walled and a more explosive pass attack as a counter to the run.

Montgomery was 38th in the league according to Sportradar at gaining yards prior to contact, at 1.9 yards, even though he finished fifth in the league in rushing. So obviously he was being hit too quickly behind a struggling line. It wasn't a lot better his rookie year at 26th overall and 2.0 yards.

With just average blocking and a chance to get moving first, the sky seems the limit for the third-year Bears back. 

David Montgomery at glance

Career: Third year, 489 carries, 1,959 yards, 4.0 yards per carry, 14 TDs; 79 catches, 623 yards, 7.9 ypc, 3 TDs.

2020: 247 carries, 1,070 yards, 4.3 ypc, 8 TDs; 54 catches, 438 yards, 8.1 ypc, 2 TDs.

The number: 29. David Montgomery's total of broken tackles in 2020, third-highest in the league.

2021 projection: 252 carries, 1,210 yards, 4.8 ypc, 10 TDs; 54 receptions, 403 yards, 3 TDs.

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