It’s an indescribable feeling, knowing you’re about to take a handoff. The offense is putting its trust in you. You might have a plan, but the moment the ball is snapped, that plan can change.
“Each run is its own piece of art, I’d say,” Bears rookie running back Kahlil Herbert said.
The 23-year-old Herbert had 18 chances Sunday to make his own art. He did so to the tune of 75 yards on 18 carries in a 20-9 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders.
The rookie pitched in for an offense that was without starting running back David Montgomery, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury. Veteran running back Damien Williams earned the start, but Herbert wound up with more carries and more yards than Williams (16 carries, 64 yards and a touchdown).
On Thursday, the Bears placed Williams on the reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning he will most likely miss Sunday’s game against the Packers. If Williams is vaccinated and asymptomatic, he could return if he provides two negative tests 24 hours apart. If he’s not vaccinated, he will miss at least five days.
With Montgomery and possibly Williams out for Sunday’s game, Herbert is in line for his first career start.
“It’s something you’ve always dreamed of doing, so being able to go out there and help my team win, it felt really good,” Herbert said Thursday before practice at Halas Hall.
The Bears drafted Herbert with a sixth-round pick (217th overall) in the spring. Prior to Sunday, he had taken only three handoffs and served primarily as the team’s kick returner.
Bears coach Matt Nagy and his staff thought they found a good back in the sixth round, but nobody truly knows until a player goes out and proves it. Last week, Herbert took the first step toward showing he belongs.
He averaged 4.17 yards per carry and took carries repeatedly in pressure situations during the fourth quarter. Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said that wasn’t necessarily the game plan, but they realized Herbert had the hot hand.
“Sometimes with the backs, it’s the flow of the game and how many hits they’re taking, how many carries,” Lazor said. “There’s definitely constant communication on the sideline with [running backs coach Michael Pitre], when’s the time for the next one?”
The Bears did a good job managing Williams and Herbert. Even without their starting running back, the Bears totaled 143 rushing yards. Now there could be even more weight on Herbert’s shoulders.
Herbert has waited a long time for this moment. As a running back at Kansas, Herbert’s teams went 6-30 during his first three years of college. It’s hard to see any sort of recognition or draft buzz in a situation like that.
Herbert decided to leave the team four games into his senior season, saving a year of eligibility, and announced his intention to transfer. He bet on himself. It paid off in the form of a 1,000-yard rushing season at Virginia Tech in 2020 and a selection in the draft.
“I feel like it was just something I had to go through to shape me into who I am today,” Herbert said.
He’s ready to prove he belongs and to show off his own form of art.
“It’s a great feeling, especially knowing you’re about to get the ball,” Herbert said. “Just allowing things to develop in front of you and going out and making a play for your team.”