Bears

Is it fair to compare David Montgomery to Kareem Hunt?

Is it fair to compare David Montgomery to Kareem Hunt?

Subscribe to & download the Under Center Podcast for the full interview with Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning about David Montgomery. 

Both NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein and the Ringer’s Danny Kelly drew a comparison between Bears third-round pick David Montgomery and former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, who rushed for a league-leading 1,327 yards and caught 53 passes as a rookie while Matt Nagy was Kansas City’s offensive coordinator in 2017. 

That’s a lofty on-field comparison to make, and is part of why expectations for Montgomery will be so high in Chicago in 2019. But Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning, who was part of coaching staffs that worked with both Montgomery and Hunt in college, thinks it’s a fair line to draw between the two running backs. 

“They both catch the ball really well out of the backfield, they’re a little bit different in their running styles but there’s some similarities,” Manning said. “They’re obviously built a lot alike and I think (they have) the same kind of style, they have the ability to make people miss, they’re smooth in their transitions and they have the ability to put a shoulder down and play calm and be a physical runner and then they both do a great job with catching the football. 

“There are some clips that you can go back and forth and watch and say man, (Montgomery) kind of reminds me of Kareem. And you go back cuts from (Hunt) too and you’re like man, that’s kind of strange, it looks a little like David there in that sense. They’re different, but I do think there are some similarities.”

Hunt’s testing numbers at the NFL Combine were similar to those of Montgomery, too, outside of Hunt’s vertical leap being better: 

Player Height Weight 40  Bench Leap Broad
Hunt 5-10 216 4.62 18 36.5 119.0
Montgomery 5-10 222 4.63 15 28.5 121.0

While Manning and head coach Matt Campbell were at Toledo, Hunt never was much of a pass-catcher — he totaled 32 receptions in three years — but after that crew left for Ames, he had 41 receptions his senior year. Montgomery peaked with 36 catches in 2017, a year before Manning left to become the Indianapolis Colts’ tight ends coach (he has since returned to his role as Iowa State offensive coordinator). 

Montgomery’s pass-catching acumen comes from a certain natural ability as well as a strong desire to work at it, Manning said. He would run routes with wide receivers during weekly game prep, allowing Iowa State to throw some different things at him (pun intended) in the passing game. 

“I could see why people would like him as far as the National Football League goes because he does have the ability to No. 1 catch the ball out of the backfield, but David also has pretty good route running skills,” Manning said. “He has the ability to line up outside the formation and run good routes. 

“… I don’t want to say it’s natural ability because he’s worked at it, but he catches the ball very well, has very soft hands, has really, really good feet and has the ability to run routes. I think obviously that translates to that league, finding ways to get mismatches on linebackers and those sorts of things. But yeah, I think he’ll be utilized in a variety of ways and he’ll do a great job in Chicago with what they do offensively. I see David fitting very well in that system.”

Hunt’s promising time with the Kansas City Chiefs ended last season, though, when video surfaced of him kicking and shoving a woman during an altercation earlier in 2018. Hunt, reportedly, was involved in two other violent incidents off the field, and was given an eight-game suspension he'll serve as a member of the Cleveland Browns this fall. While the Bears didn’t rule out exploring signing Hunt in January, the team never seriously considered pursuing him despite the lack of a public denial. 

Montgomery, on the other hand, comes to the Bears with a reputation of having good character. It’s not just his former coaches and teammates — in college, he befriended a 6-year-old boy named Hunter Erb, who was born with multiple congenital heart defects, a friendship detailed by the Athletic’s Bruce Feldman. General manager Ryan Pace has focused on bringing in high-character players during his tenure, at least since the team bungled the signing of Ray McDonald in 2015. Montgomery, by all accounts, fits with that approach. 

“He’s a great young man,” Manning said. “He’s a gentle, high character guy that’s just a great guy to be around, got a great sense of humor, but I think what’s probably most impressive about David is the extreme focus that he can have on whatever he’s doing. He can make whatever he’s doing the most important thing and becomes laser-focused on that. Really just a joy to be around.”

As Jordan Howard struggled to find his footing in Nagy’s offense last season, it became apparent the Bears’ coach wanted a better fit in his offense — his own version of Hunt, if you will. The Bears may have found that in Montgomery, and the Hunt comparison is one Nagy — like just about everyone who’s seen both play — didn’t shy away from, either. 

“There are some similarities for sure,” Nagy said. “You look at them and the size of them. You see how they run between the tackles. They are physical. They run angry, both of them. And the other connection is probably just with the background of the coaches that they both had too. That's an easy tie there. 

“But he's going to be his own person. I think that's the best part about David is the fact that the amount of talks that we had with him, you get to dig into who he is and he's going to be David Montgomery, nobody else. And I think that's really important. We love that about him and I'm excited to see really where it goes.” 

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Trubisky help the Bears beat the Saints?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Trubisky help the Bears beat the Saints?

Hub Arkush, Sam Panayotovich and Ben Pope join Kelly Crull on the panel.

0:00- Mitch Trubisky practices again and he got all of the first-team reps. So will his return help the Bears upset the Saints on Sunday?

8:30- KC Johnson joins Kelly to discuss Luol Deng retiring a Bull, Wendell Carter, Jr.'s thumb injury and to preview the Bulls' preseason finale.

14:00- Ben has the latest on the Blackhawks including Jeremy Colliton's goaltender plans for the week. He also tells us if we should be worried about Jonathan Toews' slow start to the season.

21:00- Will Perdue joins the panel to talk about the importance of a good start this season for the Bulls. Plus, he has his

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy’s run-pass balance, actually, has been fine in 2019. 

The Bears have run on 40 percent of their plays before the off week, a tick below the NFL average of 41 percent. Nagy is trying to commit to the run, too, on first down: His team has run the ball on 53 percent of its first-and-10 plays this year, slightly above the NFL average of 52 percent. 

On third and short (defined here as fewer than three yards to gain), too, it’s not like Nagy has been willing to ditch the run. The Bears have run on 55 percent of those third and short plays this year, just below the league average of 56 percent. 

Roughly: The Bears’ run-pass balance is the NFL average. That’s okay for an offense not good enough to lean heavily in one direction, like the San Francisco 49ers (56 percent run rate, highest in the NFL) or Kansas City Chiefs (66 percent pass rate, fifth-highest). 

And this doesn’t account for a bunch of quarterback runs, either. Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel have averaged 2.2 rushes per game in 2019; last year, those two averaged 5.1 rushing attempts per game. 

So that doesn’t jive with the narrative of Nagy not being willing to commit to running the ball. He is. The will is there, but the results aren’t. 

So why haven’t the results been there? To get there, we need to take a deep dive into what's gone wrong. 

Most of this article will focus on first and 10 plays, which have a tendency to set a tone for an entire drive. 
And rather surprisingly, the Bears don’t seem to be bad at running the ball on first and 10. Per SharpFootballStats.com, The Bears are averaging 4.1 yards per run on first and 10 with a 46 percent success rate — just below the NFL average of 4.3 yards per run and a 48 percent success rate. David Montgomery, taking out three first-and-goal-to-go runs, is averaging 3.7 yards per run on first and 10. 

That’s not great, of course, but Nagy would be pleased if his No. 1 running back was able to grind out three or four yards per run on first down. 

“If I’m calling a run, it needs to be a run and it’s not second and 10, it’s second and seven or six, right? That’s what we need to do,” Nagy said. 

The issue, though, is the Bears are 30th in the NFL in explosive rushing plays, having just three. In a small sample size, Cordarrelle Patterson’s 46-yard dash in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos skews the Bears’ average yards per run on first and 10 higher than it’ll wind up at the end of the year if something isn’t fixed. 

Only Washington and the Miami Dolphins have a worse explosive run rate than the Bears on first-and-10. 

“First down needs to be a better play for us,” Nagy said. “Run or pass.”

Not enough opportunity

There are several damning stats about the Bears’ offense this year, which Nagy acknowledged on Thursday. 

“That’s our offense right now,” Nagy said. “That’s the simple facts. So any numbers that you look at right now within our offense, you could go to a lot of that stuff and say that. We recognize that and we need to get better at that.”

That answer was in reference to Tarik Cohen averaging just 4.5 yards per touch, but can apply to this stat, too: 

The Bears are averaging 22 first-and-10 plays per game, per Pro Football Reference, the fourth-lowest average in the NFL (only the Jets, Steelers and Washington are lower). The team’s lackluster offense, which ranks 28th in first downs per game (17.4) certainly contributes heavily to that low number. 

But too: The Bears have been assessed eight penalties on first-and-10 plays, as well as one on a first-and-goal from the Minnesota Vikings’ five-yard line (a Charles Leno Jr. false start) and another offset by defensive holding (illegal shift vs. Oakland). 

“There’s probably not a lot of teams that are doing real great on second and long or third and long,” Nagy said. “So the other part of that too is you’re getting into first and 20 and now its second and 12.”

Can passing game help?

The Bears’ are gaining 6.3 yards per play on first-and-10 passes, the fourth-worst average in the NFL behind the Dolphins, Bengals and, interestingly, Indianapolis Colts (the Colts’ dominant offensive line, though, is allowing for an average of 5 1/2 yards per carry in those situations). 

So if the Bears aren’t having much success throwing on first-and-10, it could lead opposing defenses to feel more comfortable to sell out and stop the run. Or opposing defenses know they can stop the run without any extra effort, making it more difficult for the Bears to pass on first down. 

This is sort of a chicken-or-egg kind of deal. If the Bears run the ball more effectively on first down, it should help their passing game and vice versa. But having opposing defenses back off a bit with an effective passing game certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Situational tendencies

The Bears are atrocious at running the ball on second-and-long, and while 19 plays isn’t a lot, it’s too many. The Bears averaged 2.7 yards per carry on second-and-8-to-10-yard downs before their off week on those 19 plays, which either need to be fixed or defenestrated from a second-story window at Halas Hall. 

But on second and medium (four to seven yards, since we’re going with Nagy’s definition of run success here), the Bears are actually averaging more yards per carry (4.7) than yards per pass (4.5). Yet they’re passing on two-thirds of those plays, so if you’re looking for somewhere for Nagy to run the ball more, it might be here. 

And when the Bears do get into makable second-and-short (1-3 yards) situations, Nagy is over-committed to the run. The Bears ran on 72 percent of those plays before the off week — nearly 10 percent higher than the league average — yet averaged 1.9 yards per carry on them, 31st in the NFL behind Washington. 

“It's so easy as a player and a coach to get caught up in the trees,” Nagy said. “Especially on offense with some of the struggles that we've had, you get caught up in that and consume yourself with it. There's a right way and a wrong way with it and I feel like the past several days, really all of last week, I've had a good balance of being able to reflect, kinda reload on where we are, and I feel good with the stuff that we've done as a staff, that we've discussed where we're at and then looking for solutions. That's the No. 1 thing here.”

So what’s the solution?

Perhaps sliding Rashaad Coward into the Bears’ starting offensive line will inject some athleticism and physicality at right guard that could start opening up some more holes for the Bears’ backs. Perhaps it means less of Cohen running inside zone.

Perhaps it involves more of J.P. Holtz acting as a quasi-fullback. Perhaps it means getting more out of Adam Shaheen as a blocker. Perhaps it means, generally, better-schemed runs. 

Whatever the combination is, the Bears need to find it. 

But the solution to the Bears’ problem is not to run the ball more. It’s to run it better.