Ten Questions Facing the Chicago Bears in 2015
Dec 28, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) runs in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings linebacker Audie Cole (57) at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Who will emerge as Matt Forte’s primary backup in 2015?
Despite being one of the best running backs in the NFL since coming into the league in 2008, Forte is still under-valued, both as a runner and as a pass catcher. He can get the tough yards when it’s needed, he’s shifty and has decent, but not game-changing, speed. He has run for more than 1,000 yards in five of his seven seasons in the league (and run for more than 900 in the other two), has only had more than 300 carries in one season and has only had less than 50 catches once.
Despite all that rush yard production, the Bears were in the top ten in rush yardage only twice in Forte’s career. Much of that is due to the fact that the offensive lines for the early part of his career were among the worst in the league.
However, a larger problem was the backs pegged to spell Forte. Remember this Christmas list? Kevin Jones in 2008 (109 yards); Kahlil Bell in 2009 (220 yards); Chester Taylor in 2010 (267 yards); Marion Barber in 2011 (422 yards); Michael Bush in 2012 and 2013 (411 and 197 yards, respectively).
That’s a horrifying list of number two rushing options. You know what’s worse? Having your starting quarterback as the second leading rusher. That’s what quarterback Jay Cutler was in 2014 for the Bears, rushing for a whopping 191 yards.
If the Bears are going to be competitive with Jay under center, that needs to change. Thankfully, the team has three valid options to select from as Forte’s primary backup in rookie Jeremy Langford, veteran free agent addition Jacquizz Rodgers and second-year back Ka’Deem Carey.
Fox has a history of a running back by committee approach, but he’s never had a back of Forte’s ability, so don’t expect that to stick. If he uses Forte as a feature back, as he should, then he’ll need Carey, Langford or Rodgers – or a mixture of the three – to emerge.
The long shot in that list is Rodgers, who is an excellent blocker and can work as a receiver, which should limit the wear and tear Forte endures on third downs. But in four seasons, Rodgers has never had more than 100 carries – and has twice carried the ball less than 60 times in a season. He’s never topped 400 rushing yards and sports a 3.7 yards per carry career mark. The Bears don’t want that lack of production on the field as a supposed rushing threat.
Jan 1, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Jeremy Langford (33) runs with the ball as Baylor Bears linebacker Bryce Hager (44) chases during the first quarter in the 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Ideally, Gase will split carries between Carey and Langford in spelling Forte. Both are young runners who should have futures in the NFL as solid backs, even if they don’t emerge as starters.
Carey got a raw deal in 2014, and I feel bad for him to a certain extent. He was expected to be the number two back, but got less than 40 carries because the Bears never ran the ball. He was a feature back at University of Arizona, and had a fantastic college career, twice coming close to 2,000 rushing yards in a season.
Whether that will carry over is an unknown due to his lack of use in 2014. He’s a tough runner who can convert short yardage situations and is a better receiver than Langford, but lacks breakaway speed.
Langford, a fourth round draft pick with good but not great speed, was a workhorse back in college for Michigan State. He can handle a heavy total of carries, has the speed to break long runs (though probably not with any kind of frequency), but wasn’t much of a receiver in college and isn’t as tough a runner as Carey. He’s faster than Carey (4.42 to 4.66 seconds in the 40), though, giving him a better shot at being a home run threat than the more plodding Carey.
In my mind, it’s a toss-up between Carey and Langford as to who will serve as Forte’s primary backup. Carey, given his tough running style, is a bit more of a contrast from Forte, but Langford has greater speed. I’d like to see both of them get carries, but with Rodgers there, too, I don’t think that will happen.
My money is on Langford for two reasons: he has more big play ability than Carey, and Langford was a draft choice of the new regime, whereas Carey is a holdover from the Emery era. That might be enough to push Langford into the position.
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