Already short on playmakers and dealing with injuries in training camp, the Bears lost starting running back David Montgomery after he hurt his groin in practice Wednesday.
The Bears were relieved it wasn’t an ankle or knee injury and coach Matt Nagy was optimistic that he will be relatively fine, but the team was unsure of the severity of Montgomery’s injury. That uncertainty leaves the Bears unclear on whether they need to find a free agent to replace him.
“I always want to try to stay optimistic,” Nagy said. “I cannot tell you one way or the other [if it’s a major injury]. I have no idea until we can see where he’s at. We’re just not there yet.
“I’m hoping that he’s OK. Obviously he’s a big part of this offense and we want him to be safe. He’s worked really hard and . . . he’s been doing everything the right way. He’s such a good kid. You want the best for him.”
During individual drills early in practice, Montgomery took a handoff, ran to the left and appeared to slip on the grass. He tried to get up and fell again, then was unable to put weight on his left leg.
Montgomery limped off the field and was carted back to Halas Hall for evaluation.
If the injury keeps him out for the season, which starts in a little over two weeks, that’s a big blow to an offense that already had significant questions about its ground game.
Despite a solid rookie season from Montgomery (889 yards rushing and six touchdowns), the Bears were 27th in yards per game (91.1) and 29th in yards per attempt (3.7).
They drafted Montgomery thinking he’d be a better version of Jordan Howard, whom they dealt to the Eagles a month before the draft. The Bears selected Montgomery in the third round — their highest selection that year — and watched him quickly take over as the primary running back.
“I love his ceiling,” Nagy said. “They don’t make many guys the way they make David Montgomery. He’s a special player.”
And he ran even better over the first two weeks of practice. Montgomery reported in excellent shape after tightening up his diet and was probably the best player in the offense over the first several practices.
“David has been looking amazing,” fellow running back Tarik Cohen said. “The way he runs the ball, you can always see how passionate he is about the game. You can see where he comes from in the way he runs.”
If he’s going to miss games, the question is how the Bears fill his spot. Cohen would be the primary running back, but he’s 5-6, 191 pounds and Nagy doesn’t use him in a traditional role.
The Bears also have former wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, Ryan Nall (primarily a practice squad player) and undrafted rookie Artavis Pierce at running back.
Nagy noted that none of them have quite the same skill set as Montgomery.
“I think we all know that,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to adjust and you can work to the strengths of those other players.”
Or they could acquire a new one who fits the job description vacated by Montgomery.
There are a handful of accomplished running backs available as free agents or via trade, led by the Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette and ex-Falcon Devonta Freeman.
Fournette, a 25-year-old two-time 1,000-yard rusher, would likely cost more in a trade than the Bears are willing to give up. Freeman, who made the Pro Bowl in 2015 and 2016, is on the market after being cut by the Falcons five months ago.
The Bears also could look at free agent Spencer Ware, who played under Nagy in Kansas City, or longtime Jets running back Bilal Powell.