By Michael Fitzpatrick
Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery quietly finished tied for fifth in the NFL in rushing yards in 2020. Of his 1,070 yards on the ground, 579 came in the six games he played with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor calling plays. Lazor is still with the Bears, but head coach Matt Nagy will resume play-calling duties in 2021. Can Montgomery sustain his success under Nagy’s play calling? It depends.
Part of the reason Montgomery excelled under Lazor was because Lazor’s play-calling suited his strengths better. Lazor used a lot of under-center formations, which allowed Montgomery to run downhill and play his preferred, bruising style. Nagy comes from the Andy Reid tree, so he prefers to be in the shotgun and really spread out a defense. Quickness isn’t Montgomery’s strong suit, so his fit in Nagy’s offense can be cumbersome at times. The third-year pro from Iowa State has been working to change that, though.
“I’ve been working with probably the best speed trainer in the world in Chris Korfist,” Montgomery told reporters. “He’s actually teaching me how to run. I’ve not been able to run properly the entirety of my life. Me just really not realizing how I didn’t know how to run, he’s definitely cleared that image up for me and he’s definitely helping me out a lot.”
If Montgomery really has added breakaway speed to his arsenal, the expectations should be sky-high heading into 2021. He should absolutely be near the top of the league in rushing yards once again. Topping 1,500 yards is a lofty, but attainable goal, as well. One way for Montgomery to get there is to create more big plays. He had only five rushes for 20 yards or more in 2020 and had a yards-per-carry average of only 4.3. His yards per attempt needs to be over 5.0 (it was 4.99 with Lazor calling plays) and at least have 10 runs for 20 yards or more.
Montgomery also needs to continue to grow as a weapon in the passing game. He had 54 catches for 438 yards and a pair of scores in 2020. No one is expecting him to turn into Christian McCaffrey overnight, but the added speed should allow him to create more YAC and become a real weapon out of the backfield.
With the uncertainty at quarterback, Chicago’s offense is going to be more or less run through Montgomery. That means the expectations are for him to take the next step and put up big numbers.