The Bears have yet to find an adequate replacement for running back Tarik Cohen’s role in the offense. Cohen, who went down with an ACL tear, is a versatile back who is as useful in the pass game as he is a runner.
Cordarrelle Patterson somewhat filled that role in last week’s win over Tampa Bay, catching three passes for 38 yards. But Patterson simply isn’t built like Cohen, and he isn’t a traditional running back, despite the Bears trying to use him as one.
With former New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell reaching the free agent market this week, the Bears seemed like a potential fit. But Chicago wasn't among Bell's top three choices, according to a report from ESPN. Bell reportedly agreed to a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday.
It remains unclear if the Bears were simply not interested in the veteran back, or if he wasn't interested in them. Bears coach Matt Nagy, for the second day in a row, avoided giving a real answer on the matter Thursday.
“Le’Veon is a good football player and a good running back and [I'm] leaving that up to [general manager Ryan Pace],” Nagy said. “But we’re just really happy with our situation here.”
Instead, the Bears see some potential in Lamar Miller, the 29-year-old ninth-year pro. The Bears signed Miller to the practice squad Oct. 5. The former Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans running back tore his ACL in the 2019 preseason and hasn’t played a regular season game since 2018.
Nagy tempered the expectations for Miller on Thursday.
“He can be a valuable running back for us and we’ve just got to take it day by day,” Nagy said.
For now, the Bears seem poised to move ahead with David Montgomery and Patterson as their primary running backs. Undrafted rookie Artavis Pierce was active last week against Tampa Bay but didn’t see the field. Pierce doesn’t have the proven pass-catching skills the Bears offense requires. Running back Ryan Nall is a great special teams player, but if the Bears wanted to get him more involved on offense, they would’ve done it by now.
Miller has previous experience working with Bears running backs coach Charles London when both were in Houston, as well as Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor when both were in Miami.
“Lamar can bring another dimension in there,” London said this week. “A guy that has played a lot of football, a guy that understands a lot, a guy who can fit into the scheme that we’re trying to do. You can never really have enough good backs on your team, in your system. I’m excited that he is here.”
The big thing to like with Miller is that he can catch passes. In 2017 with Houston, he caught 36 passes for 327 yards. In 2015 with Miami he caught a career-high 47 passes for 397 yards.
Coming off an injury is a concern. An ACL tear is no small matter. Lazor said every player reacts differently to returning from such a serious injury.
“You just watch the guy, you rely on the trainers,” Lazor said. “And if he’s a vet like Lamar is, more than anything – and obviously I have a history with Lamar – you rely on him and you ask him: ‘Where are you?’ Especially once guys have been through the fire a little bit, they know what a real NFL season feels like.”
Miller certainly brings that experience. The question is whether he can still be effective on the field.