People have been missing David Montgomery his whole football career.If Montgomery and the three-headed monster at the running back position that includes Tarik Cohen and new signee Mike Davis have their way, they’ll be eluding the grasp of opponents, and making them miss, all season.
“That’s big with me. Just the will and the mindset that I have not to go down, it’s my life,” Montgomery said. “It describes my life as far as being knocked down multiple times in my life and being able to get back up and keep going.”
The rookie from Iowa State had the eye of Matt Nagy’s staff in the lead-up to the 2019 NFL Draft, leaving a large enough impression on the Bears that the organization paid a hefty price to the Patriots for the opportunity to move up 14 spots to grab the versatile back.
After initially being missed on as a prospect until late in his high school playing days, Montgomery began to “pop,” said Arvie Crouch III, the head coach and Dean of Students at Mount Healthy High School. In a community of just over 6,000 souls, Crouch still has a close relationship with his two former players-turned-NFLers, Montgomery and Houston Texans DL Joel Heath.
Montgomery’s loyalty to the program and community of Mount Healthy, embodied by his visit to his hometown after being drafted by the Bears, is something Crouch sees Bears fans coming to appreciate.
“David’s just a loyal young man. There’s not many kids these days that understand loyalty anymore and you’ve got so many kids transferring here and transferring there because of the quick fix, maybe they didn’t get along with the coach or something like that,” Crouch said. “They don’t understand … gritting your teeth and getting through it. You may not like something about somebody or something about that, but he’s a loyal young man. That’s what the fans, like Chicago, they’ve got a great group of loyal fans, they’re going to really love David because he’s a loyal person and he’s going to do everything he can to be a pillar of that football program as far as not only on the field, but outside in the communities.”
After the Bears traded Jordan Howard, the main cog in the Chicago run game the past three seasons — Howard ran for 3,370 yards and 24 touchdowns after being drafted in the fifth round in 2016 — Nagy sought a new feature back better suited for his offense. The Bears left the door open in January for Kareem Hunt, the NFL rushing champion as a 2017 rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs when Nagy was their offensive coordinator. But Hunt, who was abruptly released by the Chiefs last fall after video surfaced of him shoving and kicking a woman, ended up signing with the Cleveland Browns.
The coaching staff came away impressed with Montgomery’s visits before the draft. The game tape and intangibles he showed in workouts had many within the Bears organization grading his capabilities to reflect that high potential.
“Somebody after the fact compared him to (Matt) Forte. That’s pretty rare air around here. They gave him the compliment — hopefully Matt Forte thinks it’s a compliment,” Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said with a laugh. “Maybe not a 10 anywhere, but a lot of 9s. A lot of really, really good things. And again, so far so good. He’s identified things, he’s communicated, he’s learned, he’s competed. He’s ran routes and caught the ball, you know, all those good things that you can do to this point have been really good.”
Bears Director of Player Personnel Josh Lucas was forthright at Bears100, the team’s 100th anniversary celebration, about what made acquiring Montgomery a necessity.
“One of the main reasons we decided to move on from Jordan and bring in two backs, (Mike) Davis, who we signed from Seattle and Montgomery, both fit the mold of, it doesn’t matter when they’re on the field, first, second, third down,” Lucas said. “They have the flexibility and versatility to run all the plays. I think that will show and help us progress this year offensively.”
Montgomery figures to get the lion’s share of the carries alongside the aforementioned Cohen, Davis and Kerrith Whyte, a seventh-round rookie speedster out of Florida Atlantic University.
Davis ran for 514 yards and hauled in a healthy amount of screen passes on his way to 234 receiving yards on 34 receptions last season. He could pick up well over 100 carries and prospectively take some away from Cohen. Davis sees the potential in a backfield that could simultaneously host a pair that includes both Cohen and Davis or Cohen and Montgomery at the same time.
“There’s no limit to none of us,” Davis said. “We all can be put in different spots. We all can go out wide, we all can be in the backfield. So we all can be on the field at the same time. It’s gonna be crazy the things we do as far as us being out on the field.”
Working under backs with NFL experience has enabled Montgomery to acclimate quickly.
“I know Mike just got here, but he’s very wise just as far as what he knows and he’s very intelligent,” Montgomery said. “Tarik as well. He’s very savvy, very, very wise and [a] smart guy to have on the team. But he’s definitely been helping me, both of those guys have been helping me along.”
On the practice field, Montgomery has already flashed elements of what made the Bears move up for him in the draft.
Showing focus and assignment-sound fundamentals, Montgomery has worked steadily with Bears running backs coach Charles London, and the returns have Nagy glowing.
“He’s extremely focused when he’s in practice, which I love. He’s very dialed in to whatever his assignment is. He loves being out here,” Nagy said. “David, it’s not a lot of running going on right now, but when he gets the chance to get that football, he sprints through that hole, he makes some cuts, makes some moves and he’s gone. So right now, working protections, working some free releases for him in the backfield, he’s got really good hands, which we knew. We’ll be excited. It’s like you’ve got to contain yourself until you get to training camp when you’re really rolling.”
The potential of coupling the Bears’ shiny new weapons (Davis, Montgomery, Cordarrelle Patterson) with Cohen and in various combinations together has created excitement when drawing up the X’s and O’s, but Helfrich is looking even more toward what will happen when they can go full speed and all out with the new pieces of the offense.
“I think both those guys and Cordarrelle, Mike and David, are all gonna be better in real football,” Helfrich said. “They’re gonna be better when there’s collisions and broken tackles. Right now, if somebody gets close, they blow the whistle. And we have to; it’s the rules. But those guys, they’re hungry.”
Over the past two seasons at Iowa State, Montgomery caused 185 missed tackles (per Pro Football Focus), which was the most of any running back that entered the 2019 NFL Draft.
Creative flourishes in practice have already shown up, something the Chicago offense won’t shy away from.
Cohen was used nearly as frequent as any back in the NFL in the passing game in 2018. His 725 receiving yards were third among running backs behind Christian McCaffrey and James White.
Cohen is as optimistic as ever about what he can do through the air.
“I was comfortable last year, too, but you know, adding another on my belt is going to make you more comfortable,” Cohen said. “Quarterbacks get to know how I run routes and I get to know how they throw the ball, so I’m getting focused on that.”
In a RB corps working behind an offensive line that returns all five starters, Montgomery said he’s received plenty of assistance in learning what is needed to be a pro from the big guys up front.
The feelings of excitement from the offensive line are reciprocated.
“It’s great. We have a nice stable of backs,” Kyle Long said. “And they’ll all be competing for playing time and touches. It’s like the Avengers, they all got their own little super power, whatever it may be. I think Tarik possesses a few super powers. But we’re lucky to have them.”
Though Montgomery’s knowledge of the Bears organization grows by the day — assisted in part by the Bears centennial celebration — he’s always had a fitting Bears legend to look up to.
Like Walter Payton, Montgomery wants to make everyone miss, noting he has long admired Payton’s game in that respect.
“Just his will to not want to go down. Just being able to take every advantage of every opportunity that he had and just being always positive,” Montgomery said.
If scouts, coaches and others in and around the Bears organization are on-point about what Montgomery has to offer, Howard, after two 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons and an immensely successful rookie campaign, could be forgotten just as quickly as he was celebrated.
“Montgomery is the quintessential Chicago Bears running back,” Bears Director of College Scouting Mark Sadowksi said. “He’s played in the elements. … He’s a perfect fit. His vision. His ability to make you miss. His ability to break tackles. He’s a perfect fit to have him on the field with all of our other weapons. He’s a perfect fit for what we were looking for.”
Whether the results are seen immediately Week 1 at Soldier Field remains to be seen, but those in the Bears camp and in Montgomery’s background are betting big on him.
“I think that you look at David’s history, he’s a person that takes something to the next level,” Crouch said. “And I think that’s what the Bears (want) right now, is to go to the next level and get over that hump.”