As Bears ponder when to make QB transition, they'll count on running game for stability

The Bears were 25th in the NFL in rushing yards per game in 2020.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- There was a roar on the Halas Hall practice field early Wednesday afternoon as Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields uncorked the type of deep ball that was all over his Ohio State game tape.

New Bears receiver Damiere Byrd outran the defensive backfield and hauled in the pass from Fields in the end zone while players and coaches erupted. It reminded everyone at OTAs that despite the organization's initial intention to give veteran quarterback Andy Dalton his opportunity, Fields will ultimately take over that role.

"He has that mentality of rip your heart out," Bears coach Matt Nagy said of Fields.

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Nagy and the Bears have an intriguing quarterback situation on their hands in 2021, as they plan to use the 33-year-old Dalton as a placeholder while the 22-year-old Fields, selected No. 11 overall in the NFL Draft in April, prepares himself for the role.

Dalton is a traditional pocket passer who has a ceiling on his abilities entering his 11th season. Meanwhile, Fields is a dynamic talent who can make plays with his arm or legs outside the pocket. As the Bears consider when they'll transition from Dalton to Fields, their running game could be more important than ever.

An established rushing attack would offer Nagy a foundation for an offense in transition and aid the Bears' move from Dalton to Fields at any point in 2021 -- whether that's early September or late December -- without overhauling the playbook. Dalton will need the running game to keep him from getting exploited. Fields will need it to open up his deep passing.

That's why the Bears added to their backfield this offseason, signing veteran Damien Williams and drafting rookie Khalil Herbert to join a group led by David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen, who's still recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered last September.

The Bears are counting on their running back depth.

"I’m just looking at it as an opportunity for us as a (running back group) to be very successful," Montgomery said. "Because we’ve got a lot of talent in that room."

Of course, it's up to Nagy to ensure the Bears' offense is balanced. After he relinquished play-calling duties last November to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, the Bears followed by establishing the kind of consistent running game that Nagy never got moving. The Bears rushed for more than 100 yards in each of their final six regular-season games behind a more stable offensive line, and Montgomery finished fifth in the NFL with 1,070 rushing yards. The Bears were 25th in the NFL in rushing yards per game for the 2020 season.

Nagy has taken back the reins as the Bears' play-caller entering this season, but he coveted the running back depth. He pointed to the complementary addition of Williams, who spent 2018-'19 as a key piece of the Chiefs.

For his part, Williams feels he fits well in Nagy's scheme -- which is similar to that of Chiefs coach Andy Reid. It's a big reason why he chose to sign with the Bears, viewing that familiarity as pivotal after opting out of the 2020 season. Williams knows he can be a versatile piece in Nagy's offense.

"Just being a football player," Williams said.

From the moment Fields was drafted by the Bears after their ambitious trade up in the first round in late April, Nagy was open with him and Dalton regarding the team's plan to replicate the 2017 Chiefs and their quarterback transition from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes. The veteran Smith started the first 15 regular-season games before Mahomes made his debut in the finale, with Kansas City having already clinched its playoff fate.

While the Bears could struggle to replicate the Chiefs' plan so seamlessly, they can utilize the ground game just the same. Under Nagy's watch that season, Kansas City was ninth in rushing offense and Kareem Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards.

The Bears believe in Montgomery, Cohen and Williams leading a versatile rushing attack this season, regardless of who's starting at quaterback.

Whenever the Bears move from Dalton to Fields, the hope is for the running backs to maintain stability for the offense.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.