After career year and opt-out, RB Damien Williams eager to spark Bears’ offense
He’s far more than a gadget player. Williams is talented enough to become an essential piece in Matt Nagy’s offense.
Few players stir up as much intrigue in the Bears’ offense as Damien Williams, the newly arrived running back who was last seen turning the field into his own pyrotechnic show when the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV.
In theory, Williams is exactly the type of threat who can add some punch to an offense that spent the last two seasons sleepwalking. He totaled 1,001 yards from scrimmage in 14 games (playoffs included) in 2019 before opting out of last season. He runs with power and speed, plus he offers coach Matt Nagy an option in the slot or out wide.
“He’s very well-rounded,” Nagy said Wednesday. “It’s just a really good fit. The [Kansas City] coaches spoke really well of him . . . and Damien’s come in here like a true pro and just digested everything that we’re doing.
“He’s a great complement to what we’re trying to do. It’ll be fun when we get to the preseason to see how all these guys do, but there’s a really good vibe right now.”
Good vibes have been hard to detect from the Bears’ running backs over the last two seasons.
David Montgomery didn’t post a 100-yard game until Thanksgiving weekend, and the Cordarrelle Patterson experiment produced just 3.6 yards per carry. Tarik Cohen tore his ACL in Week 3.
Beyond those headliners, the collection of Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce and Lamar Miller totaled 34 yards for the season.
Enter Williams, highly talented and highly motivated. After stepping away following a career year, he’s on a one-year, $1.5 million contract at 29 — a more prudent move, by the way, than general manager Ryan Pace’s two-year, $10 million commitment to Patterson.
He’s good enough to take some of the load off Montgomery and give Nagy an alternative if a starting wide receiver like Anthony Miller isn’t getting the job done. He’s much more than a gadget player.
Williams made the Dolphins’ roster as an undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma in 2014 and turned a corner when former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase came aboard as head coach. He averaged 5.6 yards per touch over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, enticing the Chiefs to scoop him up in free agency.
Here’s a rule of thumb for the Bears: If Andy Reid likes a player, so does Nagy. So when the Chiefs moved on in favor of first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire and cut Williams in March, the Bears were eager to pounce. And Williams was eager to play in a relatively familiar scheme.
“Coming here and having the same system, same plays, it was easy for me,” he said.
Williams worried that taking a year off at this stage could cost him his career but felt it was necessary because his mother has been battling cancer. He watched last season on TV uneasily as he plotted his return.
He started training again about halfway through last season and was full speed when the Bears began organized team activities last week. So far, so good. His speed has been evident the last two weeks, and he had several good runs Wednesday.
“That whole year was . . . man,” he said. “Being home and watching, it really made me feel like this was something I wanted to do as long as possible — until the wheels fall off. I wasn’t ready to sit down at home.
“I feel like one of the rookie kids. First day back, new guy in the building — I’m just embracing it all right now.”