BOURBONNAIS — David Montgomery surely won’t be the first or last NFL rookie whose first-ever padded practice as a pro is one he’d just as soon forget.Within the first half-hour of the Bears’ first day in full armor — a nearly two-and-a-half-hour practice Sunday — their top pick whiffed attempting to pick up Roquan Smith in his first pass-protection drill and was stoned by Nick Kwiatkoski before he could get into his first route in another 1-on-1 exercise.
It wasn’t any better early on in team drills, where Montgomery coughed up the football, quickly recovered by Josh Woods.
Thus, when Montgomery — whom the Bears moved up 14 spots to select 73rd overall in April to be the centerpiece of their rebuilt run game — later in team drills gained a step on Joel Iyiegbuniwe on a slick seam route and turned his body in stride to corral a Chase Daniel dart for perhaps the offense’s best play on a day when the unit’s positives were fleeting — he took a moment to enjoy it, right?
“Not really, because I had a lot of errors myself,” Montgomery said. “I hold myself accountable for the bads I made at practice as opposed to the goods. The good I’m supposed to do. The expectations that I have for myself, when I don’t do what I need to do and what needs to be done, that’s where it really comes for me. [Iowa State] Coach [Matt] Campbell was very big on detail, and I try to pay attention to that.”
Does that sound like a rookie who’ll soon forget his first welcome-to-the-NFL practice?
And that comes as no surprise to anyone who’s listened closely since April to Nagy and GM Ryan Pace gush over their prized rookie. They praise his football character as much if not more than his tackle-breaking ability and his maturity as much as his versatility.
To what does Montgomery attribute his unique intangibles?
“For me, it was not wanting to have a life to where I couldn’t control the controllables and understanding that I wanted to be able to want to do things and not have to,” he said. “It kind of grew from our poverty when I was young and kind of took over.”
Montgomery grew up in a rough Cincinnati neighborhood, where he didn’t always have a bed, moved out of his mom’s home at a young age and watched his brother get convicted of murder and sentenced to life in jail. A rough opening practice in the NFL, then, obviously doesn’t begin to compare to the adversity he’s already overcome in life. And it won’t deter Bears brass from believing it drafted the right feature back to help replace Jordan Howard, who averaged a career-low 3.7 yards last season and provided little in the pass game before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Nothing is going to change from what we saw on tape at Iowa State,” Nagy explained. “He has some of the best vision that I’ve seen in a long time. He feels where the defenders are before they show up. Now, the defenders in this league are a little bit bigger, they’re a little bit faster and they hit a little bit harder, and the one thing he did in his career was he protected that football, and that’s what he’s going to have to continue to focus on. I know that he’ll do that.”
Montgomery said Sunday he’ll continue honing in on his route running, an integral role in Matt Nagy’s offense but not one he performed often in college, where his tackle breaking and creativity as a runner (led FBS in forced missed tackles the past two seasons) were on display far more often than his receiving skills (1.9 catches per game).
Despite the widespread belief he’ll ultimately lead the Bears backfield in rushing this season, the rookie also indicated his goal in Year 1 is to help in any way he can — including “being a catalyst on [special] teams.” (We suspect that’s more Montgomery’s selflessness talking; don’t be discouraged regarding his forthcoming role on offense.)
As for Nagy joking late last week that, “Montgomery won’t even talk to me, he’s so mad that we can’t put the pads on,” the soft-spoken rookie made it clear that’s simply his quiet personality, obviously not any rift with his new coach.
“I mean, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason,” Montgomery said. “Listen more than you speak.”