David Montgomery is on pace to return Monday night.
When he does, he’ll be the Bears’ lead running back, despite the standout play of rookie Khalil Herbert, who took over when Montgomery sprained his left knee against the Lions on Oct. 3.
When Montgomery practiced Thursday, he opened a three-week window in which the Bears can return him to game action off injured reserve. Coach Matt Nagy made it sound as if the Bears, despite having a bye next week, are ready for Montgomery face the Steelers on “Monday Night Football.”
“He was having such a great year, so now we’ll see where it goes,” Nagy said. “But it’s good timing if we are able to get him back and get him going because also, too, he’s grown into such a tremendous leader for that offense. I think that part is, sometimes when you’re not around as much, the guys, you miss that. And now, to be able to get him back in those huddles and that stuff, is great.”
Even after missing four games, Montgomery still ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 77.3. He won’t lose carries to Herbert, Nagy said.
“He’s a vocal leader, he’s a hard worker, he’s a hard runner,” quarterback Justin Fields said. “So of course, we’re glad to have him back this week. And I’m assuming that he’s not going to skip a beat, just based on how hard he works.
“I know he was working hard to get back out there on the field, and I’m excited for both [Montgomery and Herbert]. Both of those guys are weapons. They could both run the ball hard, and they could both block and catch the ball out of the backfield. So I’m excited.”
There may still be a role for Herbert, given his success over the last month. He ran for 72 yards or more in each of the four games with Montgomery on the sideline. His 4.3 yards per carry is similar to Montgomery’s 4.5.
While Nagy said Herbert won’t take Montgomery’s snaps, the Bears could find a role for him in lieu of Damien Williams, who missed practice Thursday after hurting his knee Sunday against the 49ers. Williams sat out the Bears’ loss to the Packers on Oct. 17 after landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list, played 11 snaps against the Buccaneers the next week and played only four snaps against the 49ers before getting injured.
Montgomery wasn’t made available for interviews Thursday. Asked whether he has earned snaps even with Montgomery back, Herbert said it was up to Nagy.
“Whatever he requires and whatever he needs from me, from David, I’m sure we’ll both comply,” Herbert said. “I feel great. Just knowing both of us back there, we both can make plays, and defenses [have to] plan for both of us.”
Montgomery has helped Herbert in film sessions. During home games, he also waited for Herbert on the sidelines to tell him what he was seeing in the game.
Herbert’s success has made him feel like he belongs.
“I think [I’m] a lot more confident,” he said. “Just getting a couple games under my belt, getting used to how things go, so I feel good about my ability to make plays at this level.”
Montgomery feels good, too.
“I know he’s fired up,” Herbert said. “He’s ready to go. He’s been watching film on [the Steelers] from last week, just getting his mind right mentally. I know he’s happy to be back, and he’s ready to go to work.”