Montgomery has contributed 38% of the Bears’ offensive yardage this season. | AP Photos

Damien Williams steps into the No. 1 running back spot, followed by rookie Khalil Herbert and practice-squad options Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce. But the Bears might learn that Montgomery is irreplaceable.

Just when the Bears’ rushing attack — and the offense as a whole — showed signs of coming together, the man at the center of it got hurt.

Running back David Montgomery, who has emerged as an essential part of the offense, left the 24-14 win over the Lions in the fourth quarter with a knee injury after rushing for 106 yards and two touchdowns. ESPN reported Montgomery is expected to miss at least four games with a sprained knee.

That will almost certainly prompt the Bears to put him on injured reserve by Saturday so they can add a replacement while he’s out.

It’s a cruel blow for an offense that was desperate for an identity and thought it finally found one with a powerful, Montgomery-driven running game. He has proven he’s more than just a generic running back after a 1,000-yard season in 2020 and willing his way to gains behind a beleaguered offensive line.

As every football coach likes to repeat, Matt Nagy said it’ll be the next man up in place of Montgomery beginning with the game Sunday at the Raiders. But while Damien Williams is a solid, veteran option, he’s not Montgomery. They might also be inclined to maximize quarterback Justin Fields’ running ability, which hasn’t been a big part of the game plan yet.

Williams is also working through a thigh bruise, by the way, which means sixth-round pick Khalil Herbert is the only healthy running back on the roster.

The ripple effect on personnel led to the Bears trading for punt and kick returner Jakeem Grant so Herbert, who had been returning kicks, will be able to focus exclusively on offense.

They have Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce on the practice squad. Pierce, who spent most of last season on the practice squad and appeared in five games, rejoined them Tuesday.

The Bears thought Tarik Cohen would be part of the equation, too, but he’s still recovering from a torn ACL and is on the physically unable to perform list. The earliest he’s eligible to return is Week 7, but there has been no indication of when to expect him. The Grant trade suggests it could be a while.

Montgomery is fifth in the NFL with 309 yards rushing, along with three touchdowns, and has accounted for 38% of the Bears’ net yardage. He’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry, up from four over his first two seasons.

He played one of the best games of his career Sunday — not only statistically, but stylistically.

Montgomery dragged defenders throughout the game, including on a nine-yard touchdown run in the second quarter when he hit a crowd of players at the 4-yard line but plowed through them to the end zone.

Montgomery had five runs of nine or more yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry on first downs, opening up the offense on second down instead of the Bears constantly being in obvious passing situations.

Williams, who at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds is nearly identical to Montgomery’s build, must show he has the same combination of powerful running and deft receiving. In his last full season, with the 2019 Chiefs, he averaged 4.5 yards per rush and 7.1 per catch with seven touchdowns before starring in their Super Bowl win with 133 total yards and two touchdowns.

Montgomery has looked irreplaceable and indispensible, so it’s a huge request to ask Williams to fill that void, but the Bears badly need his help until they get their star back.

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