Chicago Bears: Five Things to Watch in Preseason Opener

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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 win the first stage in the race to back up Matt Forte?

Having drama surrounding a backup running back position sounds a little ridiculous, but the added pressure of star back Matt Forte’s expiring contract adds heat to this competition, and Thursday marks the backup candidates’ first chance to solidify their claim as the primary reserve.

Forte has had a great career with the Bears, and hasn’t shown evidence of slowing down. He topped 1,000 yards rushing last year and added 102 receptions. However, he’s been the feature back since coming into the league in 2008, and has endured heavy punishment in every season, frequently behind a porous offensive line. And he’s 29 years old with an expiring contract after this season.

It could be time to look to the future, as the Bears need to be ready if Forte moves on or finally slows down.

Nov 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears running back Ka’Deem Carey (25) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie fourth-round selection Jeremy Langford and second-year man Ka’Deem Carey are the likely candidates to spell Forte and possibly emerge as the starter of the future if Forte doesn’t return to the Bears next year. Both Carey and Langford were bell cow backs in college. Langford was a star at Michigan State, running for more than 1,400 yards in 2013 and 2014 and more than 20 touchdowns in 2014.

Carey, meanwhile, was a non-factor in 2014 with the Bears because of the team’s failure to run the ball. In college at Arizona, though, he was a stud, coming close twice to topping 2,000 yards in a season.

Both should get ample opportunities to back up Forte, and I’ve gone on record before as saying that I think Langford, who has better speed, will be the one to back up Forte this season. That being said, Carey is a better receiving option and a tougher runner than Langford.

Langford, though, reminds me of Forte; good speed, shifty, and can run tough when he needs to even though it’s not his strong suit. It should be a good battle if both remain healthy.

The dark horse candidates are veterans Daniel Thomas and Jacquizz Rodgers, who has a leg up as a receiver over Carey and Langford and is far superior in pass protection. Rodgers, though, has only averaged 3.7 yards per carry in his four-year NFL career, and isn’t much of a threat to break a long run (career best is 43 yards). I expect him to be a third-down back, lessening the wear and tear on Forte in the passing game.

Thomas, meanwhile, was a second round pick of the Dolphins who has never rushed for more than 600 yards and has a career yards per carry of 3.6. He’s climbing a tall mountain to prove that he should be Forte’s backup. Unless he can play special teams, I don’t expect him to make the opening day roster.

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