LAKE FOREST – While he’s faced criticism for some of his picks made in the first round of the draft, Ryan Pace has had a number of hits in the middle of the selections.
Over the past three weeks, another player selected by the Bears’ general manager has begun to flourish in the team’s time of need at the running back position. In fact, he continues to get better and better by the game, adding a ground attack for a Bears’ offense looking to find their form.
Khalil Herbert, a sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech who was expected to contribute mostly as a kick returner in his first year, has 179 rushing in the last three games for the Bears. Thrust into the rotation after the injury to David Montgomery and then into the starting lineup in Week 6 after Damien Williams ended up on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the running back has been one of the surprises of this season.
Against the Packers, he finished with a 5.1 yard per carry average as he gained 97 yards while also scoring his first NFL touchdown. Herbert would have had another in the fourth quarter but it was waived off due to a holding penalty.
It’s quite a change of situation for Herbert in just a short amount of time, so naturally the running back was asked this week if he had time to reflect on how far he’d come in a short time.
“I think so, yeah,” said Herbert. “I’ve got SnapChat so my memories would come up and just like looking back at a year ago from today, I was just getting ready for my first college game at VT (Virginia Tech) or I just played in my second or third game.
“So just seeing the difference in a year and how different things can change and how fast things can change.”
There will be some difference this week for the running back, and it’s going to make continuing his recent success more difficult.
Herbert and the Bears will face the Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, and the reigning Super Bowl champions are sporting the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL. They’ve allowed just 54.8 yards per game on the ground to start out their title defense, and they’re far and away the best unit against the run.
The New Orleans Saints are second in rushing defense in the NFL and they’ve allowed 79 yards.
It will certainly be the biggest challenge of Herbert’s young career along with the rest of the offensive line, who currently sit seventh in the NFL in rushing with 129 yards per game. For Herbert and the rest of the offense, patience will be key to finding a way to crack Tampa Bay’s rush defense.
“You might get your three-yard gains, four-yard gains, but eventually, but eventually one’s going to burst,” said Herbert. “Just taking those three yards, taking what they give you, and then making them pay them pay when they miss-fit or something like that.”
Should he do that, it will be another memorable chapter in a strong first season for the Bears’ sixth-round pick.