Bears Put Entire Position Group on Notice: ‘All Bets Are Off’

Herbert/RBs on Notice

Getty Khalil Herbert has experience with the Bears, but "all bets are off" on who will be RB1 in 2023.

Khalil Herbert might be viewed as the frontrunner to enter the 2023 season as the Chicago Bears’ new lead running back, but the coaching staff is making it clear that “no one has earned a spot” in this season’s rotation just yet.

The Bears’ running back room has gone through some changes since finishing the 2022 season as the league’s top rushing offense (177.3 yards per game). Gone is former lead back David Montgomery, having signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency, and in his place stand a trio of newcomers — D’Onta Foreman, Travis Homer and fourth-round rookie Roschon Johnson — alongside Herbert and 2022 sixth-rounder Trestan Ebner.

While Herbert’s seniority in the system earned him first-team reps in organized team activities (OTAs) this spring, “all bets are off” once training camp hits with Foreman and Johnson each eager to stake their claims to prominent roles in the backfield.

“No one has earned a seat in that room yet, and they’re all going to earn their seats from what we do now until August whatever, whenever that third preseason game is” Bears running backs coach David Walker said in May, via ESPN’s Courtney Cronin. “That’s been communicated to them. Like, the very first rep [on] the very first day, Khalil [Herbert] will be the first guy. But after that, all bets are off.”

Khalil Herbert’s System Knowledge Could Give Edge

Herbert/RBs on Notice1

GettyKhalil Herbert averaged 5.7 yards per carry for the Bears in 2022.

The Bears are right to encourage competition among their new pool of running backs, but Herbert may still emerge as their top option if he can pick up where he left off in 2022. During his second season, the 24-year-old averaged 5.7 yards per carry as the second option in the rotation and nearly outpaced Montgomery in rushing yards (731 vs. 801) and rushing touchdowns (four vs. five) despite having 72 fewer carries.

Herbert’s 5.7 yards per carry ranked first in the NFL among running backs who had at least 100 carries in 2022. According to Next Gen Stats, he also led the league in yards over expected (1.44) per attempt with the next closest being Nick Chubb (1.29).

The challenge for Herbert will be improving his capabilities as a pass blocker. He was noticeably worse at the job than Montgomery for the Bears in 2022, struggling to pick up blitzes and sometimes proving to be a liability for quarterback Justin Fields. Making significant strides in that arena, though, has been an offseason priority for Herbert.

“You’ve got to be an every-down back, so that’s a big part of it,” Herbert said on May 31. “That’s something I’ve worked on throughout this offseason. I don’t know compared to the other guys, but that’s something that I’ve been working on to fix.”

The pass-catching aspect of Herbert’s game could also use work. While he caught nine of his 12 targets, he averaged just 6.3 yards per reception — a full three yards worse than Montgomery. A heavier volume of targets could see him become more productive, but the proven experience on the field is not quite there yet with him.

How Will Roschon Johnson Fit Into 2023 Rotation?

Herbert/RBs on Notice2

GettyBears rookie Roschon Johnson is also expected to factor into the 2023 backfield rotation.

The Bears will have a healthy veteran competition for carries playing out in camp between Herbert and Foreman, who rushed for 914 yards and five touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers in 2022 and took off after Christian McCaffrey was traded. But there will also be a lot of eyes watching Johnson, the Bears’ new hotshot rookie.

According to what Ryan Poles told Cynthia Frelund during his draft breakdown for NFL Network, the Bears ran 53 simulations of the draft and in none of them did Johnson fall into their clutches at the spot where they drafted him (in the fourth round at No. 115 overall). Poles even said he had “no idea” how Johnson was still available, which only added to the team’s excitement when they were able to secure him for their backfield.

Johnson flew a bit under the radar in the 2023 class. In college, he had primarily served as the No. 2 back in the rotation behind Longhorns sensation Bijan Robinson — who went to the Atlanta Falcons with the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft — but he steadily improved in each of his four seasons at the position, finishing the 2022 season with a career-high 6.0 yards per carry (554 total yards) on 93 total rushing attempts.

At 6-foot-2 and 223 pounds, Johnson is taller than most running backs, but his elite athleticism and refined instincts have allowed him to pick his opportunities wisely and attack the line of scrimmage with vicious force. He is also a twofold asset in the passing game, proving capable of making clean catches out of the backfield while also knowing how to use his big frame to protect his quarterback as a pass-blocker.

The Bears might not rush him into the spotlight with Herbert and Foreman more experienced at the NFL level, but a strong training camp could go a long way toward helping him carve out an early role in the 2023 backfield.

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