STILL CAN’T PASS IT UP

De­spite Mont­gomery’s in­jury, Nagy shouldn’t rely on Tru­bisky, Foles to bail out run­ning game

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - PA­TRICK FINLEY pfin­ley@sun­times.com | @patrick­fin­ley

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.

AP

Coach Matt Nagy (right) must lean on of­fen­sive line coach Juan Castillo (left) to help im­prove the team’s run­ning game.

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