Bryan Perez

David Montgomery on list of players poised for 2nd-year breakout

David Montgomery on list of players poised for 2nd-year breakout

Bears running back David Montgomery began his rookie season with a lot of hype. Probably too much hype, to be honest.

It began with his strong training camp performance and continued through the preseason, especially after his dazzling opener against the Carolina Panthers when he totaled 46 yards and a touchdown on just six touches.

And while his regular season wasn't a complete disappointment, it did fall short of those summer expectations. He finished the year with 242 carries for 889 yards and six touchdowns (3.7 yards per carry). At times, he looked like a player who could put the Bears' offense on his back. At other times, he looked like a typical rookie running back who danced too much behind the line of scrimmage.

There was more good than bad, however, and it's because of those good moments that Montgomery is considered one of next season's second-year players poised to breakout.

Montgomery averaged a solid 4.3 yards per carry in the final five weeks of the regular season, which is a sign the 22-year-old finally became acclimated to the NFL game. 

Another promising sign? Only a handful of running backs broke more tackles than Montgomery, who lacks the home run speed to consistently pull away after contact but should become more of a volume rusher after head coach Matt Nagy spends an offseason creating more opportunities for one of his best offensive weapons. 

It's hard to imagine a player with Montgomery's talent won't explode, especially if he's better supported by an offense that was a mess and fourth-worst overall in 2019. 

Montgomery was at least partially victimized by a sub-par offensive line and a passing game that never quite found its rhythm. Opposing defenses dared the Bears to throw the ball; Montgomery was fighting an uphill battle each and every week.

The Bears will make every effort to upgrade the offensive line as well as add a legitimate pass-catching tight end who can loosen up the second-level of the defense. If that happens, Montgomery will have more room to run and is a safe bet to eclipse 1,200 rushing yards, assuming he gets the touches he deserves. 

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    Washington QB Jacob Eason has the confidence Bears need

    Washington QB Jacob Eason has the confidence Bears need

    General manager Ryan Pace made it clear Tuesday from the NFL combine that the Bears will add competition to the quarterback room this offseason. They'll have a chance to accomplish that goal in the 2020 NFL Draft, especially in the second round where Washington's strong-armed gunslinger Jacob Eason is expected to come off the board.

    Eason is considered one of the more naturally gifted passers in the 2020 class with an arm that ranks alongside Oregon's Justin Herbert, who's projected to be picked in the first seven selections. So why is Eason more likely to be a second-rounder?

    “There are little nitpickers here and there," Eason said Tuesday from Indianapolis. "They nitpick about speed and the pocket awareness, footwork, all of those things. There are things [I] need to work on and there’s always room to improve.”

    One thing about Eason's game that there's no debate on is his right arm, which will instantly be one of the strongest in the NFL in 2020. He models his game after another big-armed quarterback who spent nearly two decades haunting Bears fans.

    “A guy like Brett Favre. A guy like Peyton Manning. They are both big inspirations,” Eason said. “I like the way they play the game. Their toughness and competitiveness; those are the guys I modeled my game after.”

    There's no doubt Eason would offer the Bears more of a pure passer's skill set; there's no comparing his arm talent to Mitch Trubisky, who routinely struggled to place the ball on target on deep throws in 2019. Eason would instantly expand Matt Nagy's playbook and make downfield chunk plays more realistic.

    Confidence is important, too. Eason, who said he's stressing the confidence he has in his arm during team meetings at the combine, isn't afraid to take shots downfield. Trubisky, on the other hand, doesn't play with that killer's instinct. And as we saw last season, it impacts the overall effectiveness of Nagy's system.

    This Eason discussion assumes, of course, that he's on the board at No. 43 overall. A big week in Indianapolis could skyrocket his draft stock into the first round; there's been some speculation that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could even take him at No. 14.

    Adding a player like Eason would create one heck of a storyline for training camp and a quarterback battle that would likely end with the rookie as the victor.

    Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

    Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

    Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn't come across as a guy willing to go down in flames with his decision to sign tight end Trey Burton back in 2018 when he met with the media at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. Instead, he confirmed the Bears will be heavily invested in the tight end market this offseason, both in free agency and the 2020 NFL draft.

    "We’re looking at it in free agency and the draft," Pace said of this year's available tight ends. "It’s deep in different areas. That’s an area of focus for us, I don’t think that’s a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end, so we’re exploring every avenue."

    It's hard to envision a scenario where Pace would be willing to travel down the big-money free-agent path again, but Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper could be too tempting to pass up.

    Atlanta confirmed on Tuesday Hooper will be allowed to test the open market, and if he ranks high enough on Pace's wish list, we could be setting up to see a $10 million per year offer. It may seem like a waste of resources to tie that much money up in the tight end position (he and Burton would cost the Bears close to $20 million in 2020), but they experienced just how limited Matt Nagy's offense is without a capable playmaker at the position. Hooper would fix that.

    The cheaper alternative for Pace to upgrade at tight end would be the draft, where several quality prospects will be on the board when the Bears pick at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. Players like Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, FAU's Harrison Bryant and Notre Dame's Cole Kmet could all be available when the Bears are on the clock, and all three of them would represent a marked uptick in talent for the depth chart.

    Pace is being logical and rational when it comes to his evaluation of the tight end group. It's especially impressive considering the top two options currently on the roster -- Burton and Adam Shaheen -- were hand-picked by him and cost Chicago a top-of-the-market free-agent deal and a high draft pick (second round, 2017). 

    Pace has a great opportunity to right his wrongs at tight end over the next couple of months.