Runnels Ready to Make a Run

The Bears used their first offensive draft pick to get depth at fullback when they selected J.D. Runnels out of Oklahoma. While beating out veterans Bryan Johnson and Jason McKie will be a tough test for the sixth round pick, Runnels is excited about the opportunity.

Runnels was a three-year starter for the Sooners who blocked for the past two seasons for RB Adrian Peterson. An All-Big Twelve player as a senior, he also caught 20 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown.

Runnels is agile and quick and is known for his football intelligence. He should be an effective contributors on offense sooner rather than later. The pressures he experienced as a member of Oklahoma's high-powered college program should ease the transition to the pros.

It's unlikely the Bears will carry three fullbacks on the roster, so Runnels will have to push Bryan Johnson and Jason McKie to make the team. Special teams will also play a key factor in the decision.

"Is he going to beat out one of our guys? He has a long road to tow," said running backs coach Tim Spencer. "It's an opportunity to strengthen the position and I'm not going to turn down anybody to be quite honest. Mix him in, shake them up and let's go."

The Bears have favored Oklahoma as a feeder for rookie talent during the past several years and this draft is no exception. Runnels is joined in Chicago by Sooners DT Dusty Dvoracek, WR Mark Bradley and DT Tommie Harris.

"It's great to be here," Runnels said. "This is a dream come true for me. It's something I always hoped for but never was completely certain would happen until I heard my name called. This has to be the biggest opportunity in my life. My family is thrilled. I am thrilled. Things couldn't be better."

For Runnels, the dream to play at this level began when he was still in grade school.

"I'd put on my uniform and go out there on the field, just imagining what it would be like to be in the NFL one day. It was something I dreamed about, something I prayed for. It meant everything to me."

Runnels' most recent step on his journey to the NFL began with a trip to Halas Hall several weeks ago.

"I felt immediately that being here was my destiny" Runnels said. "I loved the environment. People respect each other here. I also enjoyed the tradition of the team. Football means something in Chicago, and I definitely anted to be a part of that."

Runnels, whose given name is James Douglas, seemed to be taking particular pleasure in having the opportunity to share in the NFL experience with former teammate Dvoracek.

"We looked at each other this morning and both of us had grins from ear to ear," Runnels said. "Who would have guessed that this could happen to us? And having Tommie around will make it that much better. It's like family all around me. He's already taken us under his wing, advising us on housing and the city, things like that are aspects we need to know.

"I realize that it can be an ordeal going from college to the pros. Having somebody who you have known for a while to share the experience with makes all the difference."

While Runnels tries to remain relaxed on the field, he admitted that draft weekend was not quite as pleasant an experience.

"It was completely nerve racking," he said. "I waited and waited hoping that if I didn't make it that weekend, I'd at least get a shot as a free agent. Once my phone rang, I was ecstatic."

As far as what he feels he can contribute to the Bears, Runnels had an immediate answer: blocking.

"That's my strength and I plan to maximize it," said the six-foot, 238-pounder. "Nine of my teammates for Oklahoma were drafted this year so I know that coaching got us where we needed to be.

"Everything in four years of college ball was dedicated to reaching this level. Although I don't have any actual NFL experience just yet, I feel my college program was pretty close to what I'll expect here. I'll just expand and improve what I've been doing this far."

Runnels also feels he will be able to contribute as a dual threat.

"If the ball should come to me, I'll know right away what to do with it," Runnels said. "When I analyzed the needs of every team before the draft process began, that stood out to me about Chicago. I feel my talents are a good fit here."

The only thing that Runnels feels he has to guard against is trying too hard to succeed.

"There was the perfect example of that earlier when I dropped the first two balls," he said. "Now I know that I can play better than that. I just need to relax and realize we're all here for a reason. I believe in myself and in my abilities. I know I can play at this level and I'm grateful for the opportunity to prove that."


Bear Report Top Stories