It’s always alarming to see a player crumble to the ground with a non-contact injury, as Bears running back David Montgomery did in practice this week, but his situation probably isn’t as bad as it looked.
Montgomery suffered a left groin injury after slipping on the grass Wednesday. NFL Network reported he’s expected to miss two to four weeks, which allows the possibility of him returning in time to play the season opener Sept. 13 in Detroit.
If his recovery follows that timetable, at worst he would miss just two games and be back for the Week 3 matchup with the Falcons.
Considering Montgomery’s importance to the offense and the initial fear over the severity of his injury, that prognosis is a big relief for the Bears and likely eliminates the need to add a free-agent running back while he’s out.
Instead, the Bears should be able to find workarounds with their existing personnel. While this wouldn’t be a great long-term solution, they can lean on Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson in the backfield for a game or two. They also have two inexperienced running backs on the roster in Ryan Nall and undrafted rookie Artavis Pierce.
Neither Cohen nor Patterson is as well-rounded as Montgomery, but together they could carry the load.
Cohen, who is 5-6 and has done the majority of his work as a pass catcher, is exceptionally fast and averaged 4.4 yards per carry over his first two seasons before dipping to 3.5 in 2019.
Patterson looks as though he could play tight end at 6-2, 227 pounds. He established himself in the NFL as a receiver and special-teams ace, but coach Matt Nagy had already moved him to running back before Montgomery was hurt.
Patterson predominantly played running back for the Patriots in their 2018 championship season and had 228 yards and a touchdown on 42 carries. He ran 17 times for 103 yards with the Bears last year and owns the NFL’s modern-era record for players with at least 100 rushing attempts: 7.6 yards per carry.
A year ago, he said he could play any position on the field, including linebacker or kicker.
“I can do everything,” Patterson said matter-of-factly then. Recently, he added, “I’m not one of those guys you just label as a wide receiver, kick returner, running back.”
Nagy was more restrained when asked if Patterson could simply step into Montgomery’s role.
“He’s learning that stuff,” he said. “So these experiences he gets — he probably doesn’t do as well as David. David has been playing that position his entire life.”
And he had been playing it especially well in camp. At minimum, Montgomery’s injury disrupted a promising trajectory going into his second season. He led the Bears with 889 yards and six touchdowns on 242 carries last season and added 25 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown. He was the most productive offensive player behind wide receiver Allen Robinson.
He followed that by getting in better shape in the offseason, showing up to camp noticeably quicker. The last two weeks, he has been the most impressive player in the offense.
“He’s worked really hard, he knows how we do things, he bought into it,” Nagy said. “We really think his future is super bright. We want to have a long career with him. He’s a guy that you can give the ball to a lot and he’s going to get a lot of yards and he’s going to score a lot of touchdowns.”