STILL CAN’T PASS IT UP
Despite Montgomery’s injury, Nagy shouldn’t rely on Trubisky, Foles to bail out running game
Javon Wims didn’t see David Montgomery collapse in the early minutes of practice Wednesday, nor did he watch the cart come and take the Bears’ starting running back away to the Halas Hall training room. The receiver first heard about the team’s biggest training-camp development after practice ended.
“I just got in the cold tub,” he said. “And I saw it on ESPN.”
The Bears will feel the impact of his injury soon enough — none more than the two most important players in training camp, quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles. Depending on the severity of Montgomery’s groin injury, it could feel more bracing than any cold tub.
The Bears hope that either Trubisky or Foles — whomever wins the starting job in the next 2½ weeks — can conduct a balanced offensive attack this season. The winner of the derby will need to be a point guard, not a three-point shooter. Montgomery was supposed to be their ideal pickand-roll mate, someone to take the pressure off the quarterback.
The Bears can’t expect either quarterback to take over the offense single-handedly. Training camp performances by each of them — vacillating between uneven and concerning, depending on your level of generosity— have only reinforced that belief.
With a stout defense and no longterm answer at the most important position in sports, the Bears are the last NFL team that should try to throw 40 times a game. And certainly not 54 times, as they did in a season-crushing blowout loss last year to the Saints. Coach Matt Nagy called seven run plays and provided the sound bite of the season a day later.
“I know we need to run the ball more,” he said. “I’m not an idiot.”
He’d be an idiot to shun the run this season, even if Montgomery has to miss significant time. It won’t be easy. Finding a way to formulate a balanced attack before the season opener could prove just as challenging as picking the right quarterback.
If Montgomery remains out, Nagy is unlikely to lean on undrafted rookie Artavis Pierce. He probably won’t ride Ryan Nall, who has two career carries. Tarik Cohen is a receiver in a running back’s body, and Cordarrelle Patterson is the opposite. Because of intake coronavirus testing, anyone signed as a free agent probably wouldn’t be able to practice until Monday at the earliest. That’s 13 days before the Bears’ opener against the Lions — which might not be enough time to devour Nagy’s playbook.
If Montgomery misses time, Nagy has two choices. One is to hope his quarterback gets the team into the proper run plays at the line of scrimmage — it’s Foles’ strength, but not Trubisky’s — and hands the ball off to one of the team’s diverse, if flawed, running back options.
He trusts Juan Castillo, the offensive line coach he has praised since the scouting combine, to improve the 91.1 rushing yards per game average that ranked sixth-worst in the NFL last year. He can remind himself that, in the modern NFL, running backs are increasingly replaceable.
Nagy’s other choice is to revert to the pass-first ways that have gotten him in trouble the last two seasons. He could tell himself that after failing to maximize Jordan Howard or Cohen on the ground — or even Montgomery last year — that he probably has no hope of finding one steady contributor.
He could convince himself that a short throw to tight ends Jimmy Graham or Cole Kmet — or a swing to Cohen or a screen to Patterson — are as good as runs.
By doing so, though, he’d be doubling down on Trubisky and Foles, two quarterbacks who have yet to distinguish themselves in training camp.
It would be, well, idiotic.
Coach Matt Nagy (right) must lean on offensive line coach Juan Castillo (left) to help improve the team’s running game.