Bears’ Depth At The Running Back Position Could Help A Depleted Wide Receiver Position

The Chicago Bears will travel to Seattle on Thursday to take on the Seahawks in their second preseason game of the 2022 season. Chicago was victorious in their first game against the Kansas City Chiefs as rookie running back Trestan Ebner stood out by catching a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian. Although there is a significant concern for the Bears’ receiver position due to injuries and a lack of talent, the depth at running back could help a depleted receiving group.

Chicago’s new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s most significant concern for his offense, other than the offensive line, is having a receiving group capable of generating plays in the passing game. Outside of Darnell Mooney, who is coming off a 1,000-yard receiving season in 2021, the Bears feature a group of pass-catchers that are either injured or inexperienced. Veteran receivers Byron Pringle and N’Keal Harry will not play in the team’s remaining two preseason games, while rookie receiver Velus Jones Jr has yet to make his NFL debut.

The Bears have other receivers on their roster but never had any substantial success with their previous teams. Against the Chiefs in Chicago’s first preseason game, receivers Tajae Sharpe, Dazz Newsome, and Equanimous St. Brown all contributed on offense, but there is no guarantee that they can contribute consistently during the regular season. The Bears’ wide receiver position should feature Mooney, Pringle, Jones, St. Brown, and Sharpe at the beginning of the season, but injuries could affect the projected depth at the position.

The injuries and questionable talent at the position could force Getsy to get creative and utilize the depth at the Bears’ running back position to assist in the passing offense. Before the addition of Ebner via the 2022 NFL Draft, Chicago already featured two proven running backs in David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. Montgomery is viewed as one of the better backs in the NFL due to his dual-threat capabilities, while Herbert impressed during his rookie season last year, averaging 86 rushing yards during a four-game span when he was the Bears’ featured running back.

If there are injuries at the receiver position or any of Chicago’s receivers are ineffective in helping second-year quarterback Justin Fields in the passing game, Getsy could look to deploy either Montgomery or Ebner at the receiver position as an added pass-catcher. The Bears’ offensive coordinator doesn’t only have to use his running backs on passing routes out of the backfield but can also deploy them in the slot or out wide.

Due to the Bears’ deep depth, Getsy can get creative on what type of personnel he wishes to utilize on offense. For example, Chicago’s offense can feature Montgomery lined up in the backfield, and Ebner lined up in the slot position. Getsy’s offense will rely on the running backs being active in the passing offense, but it will help to deploy an additional back who could be better than a wide receiver.

If Getsy does end up using the Bears’ running backs as wide receivers, it would not be the first time it has happened in recent memory for the team. In 2019, head coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor were creative with the team’s running backs, lining them up at the wide receiver position. Montgomery caught a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers on a wide receiver screen. Backup running back Tarik Cohen consistently lined up in the slot position during his time with the Bears from 2017 to 2020.

The 2015 Chicago Bears faced a similar issue the current Bears team faces as injuries deplete the wide receiver position. During that season, Chicago’s top three receivers, Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, and Kevin White, all missed significant time during the regular season, with all three missing several games together. To combat the injuries at the position, offensive coordinator Adam Gase deployed running backs Jeremy Langford and Matt Forte as wide receivers in several games.

Gase’s plan worked as Chicago’s offense found success as both Langford and Forte combined for ten catches in a two-game span in which the Bears’ offense was down multiple receivers. In 2015, Chicago’s offense did a tremendous job featuring all three of their running backs as pass-catchers, as each running back had at least one receiving touchdown on the season.

Injuries at the wide receiver position can be a concerning issue for the Bears at the beginning of the season, but Getsy can combat the problem by relying on the depth at other positions on offense. Chicago is fortunate to be in a situation where a majority of their running backs can be featured in the passing offense. Fields and the bears’ offense can generate productivity by being creative and overcoming an early onset of injuries troubling the wide receiver position.

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