Matt Forte (22) Days Until Chicago Bears Start Season


It’s little more than three weeks until meaningful football for the Chicago Bears; in the meantime, we’ve got three more preseason games coming up, starting Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Likely making his first appearance in the preseason is Matt Forte, the starting running back for the Bears since his rookie 2008 season.

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Matt Forte’s been a rare offensive bright spot for the Chicago Bears ever since he was drafted in the second round out of Tulane University in 2008. He immediately stepped in and became the feature back, proving stellar running the rock and coming out of the backfield in the passing game.

Forte’s never been much of a gamebreaker for the Bears, like Jamaal Charles for the Chiefs or Lesean McCoy (formerly) for the Eagles. His career long carry is 68 yards, and three seasons he never had a carry longer than 50. He’s not much of a power back, either, though he is capable of getting the tough yards if given the chance.

Instead, his calling card is more his versatility and shiftiness. Running or catching the ball, he is capable of beating teams, forcing them to delegate players on every play to focus on him. When he is toting the rock, Forte can shed tackles and cut in the open field with the best backs in the NFL. He’s never been properly recognized in the league for his overall talent, and much of this stems from the fact that he isn’t a home run or power threat. He’s just a great back.

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

In seven years with the Bears, he’s caught more than 50 passes six times and topped 1,000 rushing yards five times. The other two seasons he cleared 900 yards, one of which was shortened by injury, which brings us to another stellar point of Forte’s career: his durability.

He’s averaged 323 touches per season, and many of those seasons were spent toiling behind an inferior offensive line. Despite the high number of carries and receptions every season, Forte’s missed only five games in those seven seasons, four of which came in one year (2011) when he injured his knee.

Even as he approaches 30 years old, Forte hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. He ran for 1,068 yards in 2014, in a season in which the Bears didn’t put much effort into actually running the football. He also set an NFL record for 102 receptions in the same year.

Dec 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA;

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-14. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

What to expect from Forte in 2015

This is a big year for Forte, for two reasons, and they go hand-in-hand: His contract is up after this season, and at almost 30 years old he’s at the tipping point for when most backs start to go downhill.

Even if Forte has a good season, there’s no guarantee he’s back with the Bears next year. The new coaching staff has a track record of relying on multiple backs instead of a lone feature back. With their other needs, particularly on defense, it’s entirely possible that the Bears let Forte go, sign a less expensive option and put the money they would have needed to spend to keep him on signing someone to bolster the defense.

Nov 16, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) in the second half of their game against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field. The Bears won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

It’s also possible that age catches up to Forte and the Bears elect not to bring him back, possibly even low-balling him like they did Brian Urlacher to make it look like they tried to bring him back.

To his credit, though, it doesn’t seem like Forte’s letting the contract situation bother him.

“All I can do is talk to them about it and they can say yes or no. They said we’re not talking about that type of stuff right now, so all I can do is play football. I’ve come to the realization that every run or catch that I may have might be my last in a Bears uniform, so if they don’t want to re-sign me, I’ll have to play somewhere else,” Forte told ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson.

I’m convinced, though, that Forte’s got another good year or two in him, particularly because of his versatility. Even if he’s no longer the running threat he used to be – he averaged less than four yards a carry in 2014, the first time since 2009 – he’s still a threat coming out of the backfield.

With his age and the coaching philosophy of John Fox and Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase, I expect the Bears will try to lessen the running burden on Forte, and spread more carries around to the stable of backups, including Jacquizz Rodgers, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey.

But regardless of the philosophy in deploying Forte in 2015, he’ll be good for 1,000 rushing yards and at least 50-60 catches.

Next: Bears Make A Change At Right Tackle

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