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Little to say, much to prove: Bears RB David Montgomery embarks on rookie season

Bears fans should get their first real look at the team’s top draft pick Thursday against the Panthers.

The Bears are betting big on Montgomery as a rookie.
AP Photos

BOURBONNAIS — No Pro Bowls. No outlandish stats. No mention of trying to match the Bears’ great running backs of the past.

David Montgomery is keeping it simple and humble as he gets ready for his rookie season. He has understated ambition for what could be a long NFL career.

“Play ball,” he said. “That’s really it.”

When pressed to expand a little on what he hopes to accomplish, Montgomery added, “Help as much as I can.” He then stared blankly as though there was nothing else worth mentioning. It seems that one of his rookie goals is to say as little as possible.

That’s probably a wise approach as he tries to find his place in an offense that returns mostly intact from last year, but surely he’s aware of the grand expectations inside and outside the organization. Montgomery was the first player the Bears chose in the NFL Draft, a third-rounder at No. 73, and he could be their lead running back this year.

Matt Nagy will make him earn that the hard way, of course, and stuck him third on the depth chart heading into the preseason game against the Panthers on Thursday. Tarik Cohen, who also plays receiver, and veteran Mike Davis are in front of him.

“He’s done what all rookies should do — come in, kept quiet and worked,” running backs coach Charles London said. “The two older guys have done a good job of trying to bring him along. I’ve been happy with him.”

Predictably, Montgomery isn’t fixated on the pecking order.

“I just go everywhere with the same idea: to work hard,” he said.

Matt Forte is the Bears’ gold standard for a dual-threat running back, and Montgomery has shown the potential for that level of versatility. He caught 58 passes for 453 yards over his last two seasons at Iowa State.

The team also needs him to provide what Jordan Howard contributed last season. He was an essential piece of the offense and had the ball in his hands more than any player except for quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

The Bears traded Howard to the Eagles after relying on him as a power back and saw Montgomery as a potential upgrade because of his added value as a pass catcher.

He’s the biggest running back on the roster at 5-10, 222 pounds — roughly the same as Howard, who topped 1,300 yards and made the Pro Bowl his rookie year — and pounded out 4.7 yards per carry in college. Montgomery fumbled once out of 279 total touches last season, and Pro Football Focus ranked him first in the country with 99 broken tackles.

In the balanced offense Nagy envisions, the thought is for Montgomery to fill (and expand) the role Howard had, rather than trying to replace his production.

The Bears don’t need 935 rushing yards and nine touchdowns from Montgomery. They need someone they can trust in short-yardage scenarios right away and develop into something more multifaceted as they go.

Sound good, David?

“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m ready to play ball.”