LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Often before the sun rises over Halas Hall, Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields arrives for work.
But Fields isn’t the first Bears player – or even the first rookie – to arrive at the team facility each day. That would be first-year running back Khalil Herbert, who's usually inside Halas Hall before 7 a.m. to get in work before meetings and practice start.
“I feel like he’s treated this whole process like a veteran,” Fields said. “Like, literally every time I pull up, he’s always here.
“He really takes his work seriously.”
The 23-year-old Herbert's maturity is part of why the Bears have faith in him to carry a significant load. After top running back David Montgomery was placed on injured reserve last weekend with a left knee sprain, the Bears featured Herbert prominently in their offense in a 20-9 win against the Raiders on Sunday, when he had a team-high 18 carries for 75 yards.
Veteran running back Damien Williams also carried 16 times for 64 yards and a touchdown as the Bears split their backfield work nearly evenly. But the Bears saw Herbert taking advantage of his opportunities, and the game flow presented the chance to get him more handoffs.
With Williams likely out for Sunday against the Packers after testing positive for COVID-19, Herbert is set to lead the Bears at running back.
“Every day I come in here, I got to be ready to go,” Herbert said. “I didn’t know when the playing time would come. It came earlier than I thought.”
In 2020, Herbert transferred from Kansas to play a fifth year of college at Virginia Tech. He rushed for 1,204 yards and eight touchdowns with the Hokies, earning his way to the NFL as a sixth-round pick of the Bears this past spring.
Herbert joined a crowded running back mix in Chicago that included Montgomery, Williams, Tarik Cohen, Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce. It’s why he struggled to envision getting 18 carries in a single day just five games into his rookie season, but that's the opportunity he got Sunday, taking advantage of it by displaying good vision and quickness with the football.
“Each run is its own piece of art,” Herbert said. “Sometimes you can slow it down, sometimes you’ve got to speed it up. But just finding the happy medium between those two and knowing when to be patient and knowing when I’ve got to hit the hole is one of the things that happens with the speed of the game. You learn how to utilize that.”
The Bears are hopeful that Montgomery will miss just a month with his knee sprain, which he suffered during a win on Oct. 3 at Soldier Field. Cohen is also eligible to be activated next week from the physically-unable-to-perform list, which he has been on while in the final stages of his rehab after suffering a torn ACL in 2020.
For the time being, it’s Herbert who's playing a key role for the Bears. From the crack of dawn each morning, he has been preparing for this.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.