There are stories out of training camps from coast to coast about battles between rookies and veterans, and the word out of Chicago is no different. During training camp, the depth chart at running back needs to sort itself out as the coaches shuffle the players through their drills and workouts. While Tarik Cohen is settled in his role as the speedster in Matt Nagy’s offense, that leaves free agent signing Mike Davis in a battle for touches with rookie David Montgomery battling for their share of the remaining backfield touches.
Free Agent Acquisition
Mike Davis has had a great training camp getting praise from several different coaches, including HC Matt Nagy. As camp progressed, Nagy complimented Davis’s ability to not repeat his mental errors as he was learning the new offense. Intangibles like that allow the player to earn the coaches trust and that dependability usually translates into more playing time for veterans. Nagy also calls Davis a smart player who is multidimensional. Two characteristics that will help him as a free agent acquisition trying to prove himself worthy of meaningful minutes in the Bears offense. Davis’s thoughts on how he has done in camp so far are that he impressed the coaches with how well he has been able to pick up the offense. Not only that, he has been able to jump in and do whatever they have asked him to do in the offense. That helps the offense be flexible regarding personnel in the multiple packages that Nagy wants to run out of. Making the coaches happy usually leads to more time on the field.
Chicago drafted David Montgomery in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft and before the draft reviews were split. Some people were critical on his heavy workload over his last two years at Iowa State, 258 rushing attempts in 2017 and 257 in 2018. Others talked about how he takes a lot of big hits because of his running style. He’s able to make people miss, but usually gets hit by the second guy. In other words, he is not as elusive as coaches would like him to be, but he gets the job done. Montgomery has had to start slowly in camp, adjusting to the speed of the game and learning an NFL offense at the same time. Running back’s coach Charles London has been quoted saying he is proud of how the rookie has handled himself on and off the field. London has tried to get through to Montgomery that he needs to focus on the improvement of “just one thing” each practice so he can make progress instead of trying to do everything all at once making no progress on anything. It will be telling how Montgomery does after his first preseason game against Carolina because there will be things he needs to work on regarding his play and he will have to work on that in addition to prepping for the next game.
The Camp Battle Looking Forward
The first thing is we can’t look too much into the first preseason game. Case in point, Montgomery finished with 3 rushes for 16 yards, one of which went off tackle for a 7-yard touchdown, and 30 yards on 3 receptions. Mike Davis also got 3 rushes but only came up with 9 yards total even though he broke off a nice 11-yard run on one carry. The quick reaction is to say Montgomery did better, but when you look at it differently with other factors involved, it says less than it first appears. Veterans who are a little more established usually don’t play much in the first preseason game and are frequently limited in the second one as well. The coaches give playing time to the people they need to get more tape on, mainly rookies or players needing to prove themselves. Davis getting less work is actually a vote of confidence to him that he has earned more of the coaching staff’s trust up to this point.
Before the preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, the Chicago coaching staff was saying that they were happy that Montgomery had Cohen and Davis to learn from. It will be interesting to see how Montgomery reacts this week in camp as he prepares for the upcoming game against the N.Y. Giants. One of the things that rookies have to learn is how to process the feedback from last week’s game while at the same time preparing for the next game. No matter how Montgomery did during training camp and the game against Carolina, the real learning starts now as the veterans will have a leg up on the rookies on how to take the coaches criticism while at the same time digesting the game plan for the next game. Montgomery has to pick his game up a bit to keep up with the rest of the Bears backfield. Not doing so will mean he has to wait longer to gain the coach’s trust and have as big of a role as the other two running backs.
Overall, and as might be expected this early on, I think Montgomery needs more time to earn Nagy’s trust. I think they like what Davis gives them in a durable back who can do a little bit of everything. That gives them versatility in certain packages and allows them to be able to hide what they are trying to do on a play by play basis. Davis also has absorbed portions of the playbook quickly, which is another positive to him getting a fair share of the carries when the regular season starts. Montgomery is learning on the job, as most rookies do, but there will always be setbacks that can only be overcome by playing through or learning from them by watching on tape.
A strong showing in camp by Davis and the rookie learning curve that Montgomery will experience are going to keep the two of them neck and neck for the beginning of the year. I think when the Bears drafted Montgomery, they envision him being their running back three years down the road. For the present, Davis’s performance has earned him a spot at the table feasting on a share of the touches in Matt Nagy’s offense that requires the running backs to be versatile. As Montgomery learns and develops as a receiver, he will earn playing time proportional to the trust he builds with the coaching staff. Davis will be there both as a teacher and a rival but most importantly a teammate. A teammate that is looking to earn and hang onto as many snaps as he can receive for Chicago in 2019.