In his first couple seasons with the Chicago Bears, David Montgomery had the Detroit Lions circled on the schedule as a game he could have “fun” in.
Last year, everything changed.
“Playing those guys last year, I’m sure they had us circled,” Montgomery said. “So just trying to feel the morale and see what kind of energy these guys bring, I’m excited about it. Just having a short conversation with (several Lions players) and understand that they’re building something special here, (now) I’m able to be part of it so I’m ready to roll.”
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Montgomery signed a three-year, $18 million free agent deal Thursday to become the Lions’ new feature back.
After four productive seasons with the Bears, he said he was drawn to his one-time division rival by the chance to play in a high-powered offense, behind a first-rate offensive line, “with a team that’s starting something crazy.”
The Lions, one of the worst teams in the NFL during Montgomery’s first three seasons, went 9-8 last year to finish with their first winning record since 2017. They swept the season series with the Bears, winning 31-30 at Soldier Field in November and 41-10 at Ford Field in January, and held Montgomery to 61 yards rushing on 15 carries in those games.
“You could tell,” Montgomery said. “You could kind of see on the sidelines, like they had an infectious energy that each of them bring to each other. You feel it on the other side of the ball. And being able to see how well they run the ball, I’m excited to see that also. Seeing those big guys up front, yeah, I’m super excited.”
Montgomery led the Bears in rushing in three of his four years in Chicago, running for 3,609 yards and 26 touchdowns while playing mostly behind a patchwork offensive line.
He had career-lows of 801 yards rushing and five touchdowns last season, but tied for the highest forced missed tackle rate among all backs with 125 or more carries, according to Fantasy Points Data.
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In Detroit, Montgomery (.31 missed tackles per rush in 2022) will have the benefit of running behind a line that features four Pro Bowl-caliber players and in a backfield that also employs D’Andre Swift as a change of pace.
Swift struggled through ankle and shoulder injuries last season, but averaged 5.5 yards per carry, tied for second-most among backs with at least 99 rushing attempts.
“He’s nice,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always appreciated and respected his game. It’s going to be real dope to play with him and being able to say that me and him are in the same room. He’s nasty, bro.”
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The Lions should have a nasty offense this fall, with at least eight of 11 starters returning — receiver DJ Chark remains a free agent — from a team that scored the fifth-most points in the league, and Montgomery flling a role similar to Jamaal Williams in the backfield.
Williams led the Lions with 1,066 yards rushing last year and broke Barry Sanders’ single-season franchise record with 17 rushing touchdowns. The Lions attempted to re-sign Williams and offered him a contract similar to the one they gave Montgomery, but pivoted to Montgomery as Williams’ agent shopped the market for better deals.
Montgomery called Williams “a great player,” but said, “I’m not here to be him.”
“I’m here to be me,” he said. “I know I can bring a lot to the table. I don’t want to be labeled as just can do this for a team or for the offense. I want to be able to do everything that whatever (offensive coordinator) Ben (Johnson) asks me or coach (Dan) Campbell asks me to do, even (running backs) coach (Scottie) Montgomery. Whatever they need from me I’m down to do. Got that worker’s mentality and I’m ready to get to work.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.