All eyes won’t be on Bears rookie Trestan Ebner when he replaces running back Khalil Herbert in the hottest backfield in the NFL this week. Justin Fields is the star of that show. But Ebner knows he has a big job ahead of him.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous,” the sixth-round draft pick from Baylor said. “It’s little nerve-wracking because you just want to get in and execute. You know what the running game means to his offense. So I don’t want to let anybody down. I like making my fellow running backs proud.”
The 5-11, 206-pound Ebner will be getting that opportunity against the Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes Benz Stadium after Herbert injured his hip on a kickoff return against the Lions last week. Herbert is on injured reserve — a mandatory four-game absence through the Bears’ game against the Eagles on Dec. 18.
But Bears coach Matt Eberflus was optimistic Herbert would return. “We feel comfortable with it,” Eberflus said. “We don’t know exactly [when]. And that can change. But we like where he is and he’s in a good spot.”
Ebner actually was the featured back in practice Wednesday, because David Montgomery was out for personal reasons. Montgomery likely will play against the Falcons, but Herbert’s absence leaves a sizable hole.
The second-year running back from Virginia Tech via Kansas has 108 carries for 643 yards (6.0 average) and four touchdowns this season. He is 10th among running backs in yards and third in yards per carry. He has 19 rushes of 10 or more yards on 108 carries (one for every 5.7 carries) — the highest ratio among running backs in the NFL.
“It’s hard to replace him,” Eberflus said. “Khalil’s got a great style to him. You seen the breakouts runs, so it’s hard to replicate that. We’re just going to have to share the load with those guys.”
Ebner was one of the fastest running backs in the draft — he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. He flashed that speed in the preseason and has 18 carries for 46 yards in the regular season.
“I’m really fast, but I have to feel it out a lot … and make the right cuts,” Ebner said. “If I can just get around the edge more this game, I think I can make some big plays this week.”
Of course, there’s much more to it than speed, and even running.
“He’s a great athlete and great running back,” Fields said. “The biggest thing with him is learning our plays, the motion shifts, because our plays are wordy,, so him just digesting that as a rookie coming in.
“And in protection, too — knowing where he has to go if we get four-week, four to a side. So just knowing his job. I think he’s grown since Week 1 or from even the preseason. He’s an explosive running back. He’s great with his hands, so I’m excited to see what he does this week.”
Ebner said he did a lot of pass blocking at Baylor and is ready for the challenge. “I always heard it was a knock on me, but I never gave up a sack in five years at Baylor. I could probably fix a lot of technique things, but as far as getting in there and hitting somebody and fighting, I don’t have a problem with that.”
But Ebner also could add a pass-catching element to a developing offense. He was a wide receiver in high school, returned three kickoffs for touchdowns at Baylor and loves the open field.
“That’s a role I really love,” he said. “Hopefully we can morph into more of that as this season goes or next year, because I would love to catch passes out of the backfield. I think that could take this offense to the next level.”