Chicago Sun-Times

24 days to Camp: Forte, Jones give Bears strong backfield

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Back to offense as we make our way through the positions on our way to training camp. Let's look at what the Bears have at running back. Fullback will follow later in the week.

Projected starter: Matt Forte, 6-2, 218 pounds, 2nd year, Tulane

Others

Kevin Jones, 6-0, 225, 6th year, Virginia Tech
Adrian Peterson, 5-10, 212, 7th year, Georgia Southern
Garrett Wolfe, 5-7, 185, 3rd year, Northern Illinois

Projected depth chart

Forte, Jones, Wolfe, Peterson

2009 salary cap numbers

Matt Forte $773,533
Kevin Jones $1,750,000
Adrian Peterson $770,000
Garrett Wolfe $620,825

Number of running backs on 2008 roster at start of the season:
4

Projected number of defensive ends on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3 or 4

The skinny: The Bears return the same bunch from 2008 with the hope that it will be even more productive. Forte had the most impressive rookie season in franchise history and now that Jones is 1 1/2 years removed from his ACL reconstruction, the belief is he will become a substantial contributor on offense. Jones also knows the offense now and the Bears outbid Buffalo for his services, the first of two players the Bears beat the Bills to this offseason. They later plucked linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa off the street despite overtures from Buffalo. Forte led all NFL running backs in receptions last season and while that's impressive, it's not exactly the sign of a healthy offense. Our bet is the Bears hope Forte doesn't lead the team in receptions again this season. He needs to improve his yards per carry of 3.9, and with a re-tooled offensive line and a new quarterback in Jay Cutler, there's ample reason to believe that can and will happen. He was fourth in the league with 316 carries last season and he simply dominated the playing time at the position. Forte was on the field for nearly 84 percent of the offensive snaps last season, a remarkable figure. The Bears have said they want to spread the action out more this season, and there's no doubt Jones is hoping they do just that. Forte needs to improve in short-yardage situations. He's an upright runner and that makes him an easier target. That takes care of the top two. There will be an interesting competition for the No. 3 job and it will not be settled by their play in the backfield alone. Wolfe and Peterson are both mainstays on special teams and Wolfe led the team with 21 tackles last season despite playing in only 13 games. Durability is going to be a concern with him at his size and Peterson wasn't as good as he has been in the past. Making this a numbers crunch is the presence of tight end Michael Gaines. If Gaines and second-year tight end Kellen Davis both make the roster, the squeeze figures to happen right here. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has yet to find a role for Wolfe on offense even though the team has stated it would like to do just that. Peterson is what he is, a guy who can come off the bench and pick up what is blocked for him. Keep an eye on how they're being used in training camp and preseason. Four tight ends would likely spell only three running backs and then the Bears would likely find a back for the practice squad.

The upside: The upside would be Forte repeats with another 1,200-yard season and Jones tops 500 yards as a guy who gets close to one-third of the playing time.

The downside: Not known as a guy with a top gear, Forte continues to hover under four yards per carry where ex-first round pick Cedric Benson was for the Bears. Worse yet, the Bears continue to use Forte too much and he wears down.

On the hot seat: Wolfe and Peterson. One of them might not make the roster. Wolfe was superior on special teams last season and all things equal could have an edge.

Final thought: Re-signing Jones to a modest two-year deal was a smart move. He proved to be a real pro last season and can handle every assignment thrown at him. He's a solid complement and can carry the load if something happens to Forte. It's a steady backfield and we're just waiting for Lovie Smith to announce that the Bears "get off the bus running."

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19 Comments

My money is on 3-RB's on opening day. I see no way that Angelo dumps Kellen Davis. He certainly won't trade Olsen and Clark seems safe. They went out and acquired Gaines to do the dirty work that has been missed since John Gilmore left for Tampa. Baring a surprising trade, I don't see any scenario of keeping 3-TE's and 4-RB's.

Seems to me that AP may be shown the door. He is what he is, a perrenial backup with a proven knack on ST's but time isn't on his side anymore. AP is coming off a poor year with the coverage units while Wolfe seems to be hitting his prime leading the team in ST tackles. The money is a wash so age and ST production will prevail here.

As far as Forte and Jones go, this duo could potentialy be a top-5 type this season. With a full year under his belt, a beefier O-line blocking for him and Jay Cutler's big arm threat all indicate that Forte will improve on his rookie numbers. Jones will definetly see improved playing time and with a full recovery from his injury should be more effective and back to his old self. Forte should break the 1300 yard rushing mark and if Jones can get 120+ carries he should easily crack 500+ yards as well. Both backs will average over 4.2 yards per carry now that teams won't be so willing to stack the box with Cutler under center.

Go Bears !!

Too much is being read into Cutler's presence making a difference for the RBs. We should not forget that the OL is a big piece of this puzzle and unfortunately there are no guarantees on that end. We have Pace who is a question mark only because of injuries. We have a few new starters: Williams, Omayale and Schaffer. Cutler can make a difference if he is protected well which would then augur well for the RBs. If the pocket keeps collapsing then neither will have the deep threat nor the danger of the RBs piling on big yardage.

I've always liked the guy, but AP is probably the odd man out. He doesn't have a lot of wear, but he's 30 this year and has probably reached his upside. How can they continue to keep him when they could be developing a younger player with as much, or more, talent?

Brad said Jones proved to be a real pro. I seem to remember he even started playing special teams as the season went on last year? If both he and Wolfe do that, it's another nail for Peterson. If he can't separate himself because of special teams play, then....?

Unfortunately injuries are often a factor at the running back position in the NFL. That would be my hope, that this question is answered on the field, not in the training room.

Am I the only one excited by this o-line? We're bigger and badder in every way. Sure, I'll miss Tait, a class-act and a heckuva player, but this new line has depth and is going to knock people off the ball. I can't wait to see them up against the williams wall. Last year's line could be charitably described as "adequate;" I think this year's line is going to be a lot of fun. I can't hardly wait. GO BEARS!

Our Oline is a question as we don't know what these new players will do. However our Oline is better than last year (on paper) and we did not do a bad job last year (surprisingly) - The 4 goes at the TD line were a bad Coaching decision - overall our Oline did a good job and I see it only doing better this year, which combined with Cutler and the maturity of Hester/Olsen/Forte and hopefully Jones healthy would seem to indicate that RB is an extremely strong position this year, After Cutler hits Hester a couple times for long gains - watch the corners/Safeties fade back to prevent that and the younger Oline will have the strength to open holes for Forte/Jones will be able to explode.
You all know I hate saying `if' and `will' but in our Offense case this year, if and will are pretty good bets.

Matt Forte MUST show he can gain yards outside of the x's and o's. I'm talking about Darrel Sproules, open field, juke em out of their shoes stuff. Ron Turner coaches his players not to mess up, as opposed to turning them loose to make some magic happen, and he's done the same with MF.

Adrian Peterson had a major dropped pass late in the season that really hurt the Bears playoff hopes. Garret Wolf just hasn't worked outside of special teams. Bears need an upgrade at number 3 RB.

Go Bears!

The RB's will do much better this season, partly because of the revamped line but mostly because of having Cutler at QB. No more 8/9 in the box when you have a real QB at the helm. Once they establish a better passing game the holes will open themselves. It's a beautiful thing not to have to worry about a QB for the first time since Erik Kramer..... well maybe Jim McMahon.... ok definately Sid Luckman.

"Matt Forte MUST show he can gain yards outside of the x's and o's. I'm talking about Darrel Sproules, open field, juke em out of their shoes stuff"

Forte has enough moves to get by. Ask the Colts. Personally I hope Forte doesnt emulate a player who has 544 career rushing yards.

I've always liked our AP, but I think Gaines takes his roster spot this year. It seems like a lot of people are looking at the combined total for RB & TE, but I'll add in the FB's as well.

I know you said that you'll tackle the FB position later this week, but I would venture to say the Bears will go into the season with a total of 9 guys at RB/FB/TE. Jason McKie seems to be quite well liked by the organization, but I'm really hoping they keep a second FB (Taufoou) that could push him for playing time.

As you've pointed out, Brad, the two guys battling for that 9th spot seem to be Wolfe and AP. I understand that the coaching staff had little time to spend with Wolfe last year which is why their imagination extended to sending him up the middle. Once they find his niche, he'll be much more valuable than Peterson. Aside from blocking and potential durability, Wolfe IMO is an upgrade from Peterson in all other abilities.

Just for clarity, my nine would be:

RB's Forte, Jones, Wolfe
FB's Taufoou, McKie
TE's Clark, Olsen, Gaines, Davis

BEAR DOWN!

I think Wolfe should be the one to go. He good on special teams, but has done nothing on offense short of a couple successful gimmick plays. The benefit to AP is that if the aging McKie gets hurt, AP has the size to fill in at Fullback. By the way, it's Darren Sproles, not Darrel Sproules.

Nine seems to be too high of a number for TE's/RB's/FB's.....


ST's: (3) Maynard, Gould, Mannely

D-Line: DE's ie... Brown, Ogunleye, Anderson, Melton. DT's ie.. Harris, Adams, Gilbert, Dusty, Harrison and you have to add swing man Idonije so that makes (10)

O-line: (5) starters and at least (3) backups ie.. Beekman, Shaffer and Buenning makes (8)

LB's: (6) Lach, Briggs, Tino, Roach, Williams, Freeman.

Safety: (4) Payne, Steltz, Graham and a toss between Bullocks/Afalava/Earl/Daleston

CB: (5) Tillman, Vasher, Bowman, Moore and either McBride/Hamilton/Woodney or Burgess

NB: (1) Daniel Manning

QB: (3)

WR: (5) Hester, Bennett, Knox, Iglesias and either Rideau/Davis/Kinder/Aromashodu/Broussard/Peterman

RB: (3) Forte, Jones and either AP or Wolfe

FB: (1) Hopefully it will be Will Ta'ufo'ou !!

TE: (4) Olsen, Clark, Gaines and Davis

That's 53 players. Perhaps JA goes with only (2) QB's or does cut down one of the TE's to make room for an extra LB, FB, RB ect.... The numbers get tight when you break them down by position so it will be an intersting thing to watch during training camp.

(27) current Bears won't make the cut and of the rookie class I would bet that Iglesias, Freeman, Knox, Moore and Gilbert are locks to make the roster and if Melton shows enough promise he could stick as well. That means quite a few veterans will be cut to make the room needed to keep some of these rookies on the opening day roster !!

McKie, Hillenmeyer, Marcus Hamilton, McBride, Matt Toeaina, Tyler Reed, Mark Anderson, Ervin Baldwin, Fontel Mines, Joey Larocque, Rasheed Davis, Jason Davis all are in serious jeopardy of losing their jobs.


Go Bears !!

"" Too much is being read into Cutler's presence making a difference for the RBs. We should not forget that the OL is a big piece of this puzzle and unfortunately there are no guarantees on that end""


I think Cutlers presence will in fact make opposing DC's worry about stacking the box to stop our ground game. It was fashionable last season because teams knew Orton was limited but Cutler has proven he can make all the throws over the entire field. If Forte could average 3.9 YPC behind St.Claire, Beekman, Kreutz, Garza and Tait facing a healthy dose of 8-man fronts then I certainly expect a better average from him facing more 7-man fronts behind Pace, Omiyale, Kreutz, Garza and Williams....

Depth along the O-line is probably the best it has been in Angelo's tenure. The starting group is solid and we have Beekman, Buenning and Shaffer plugging the back-up roles. All are proven veterans now that Beekman did well starting 16-games last season. Omiyale will start at LG and can swing back to OT in a pinch if things get dicey with injury or performance....


Go Bears !!

To Ripper: Where do you get yur info about O-Line? They are all old accept for rookie Williams. The guy from carolina wasnt even heard of till he came here and shultz is a backup!!! This is not better yet only time will tell.And as for RB's they wont see the light of a hole until cutler has someone to throw to..d-fenses are not goin to be scared of cutler cause there is no deep threat except hester and he drop balls like my g/f!!!

I would like to see Devin Hester used as a "scat back". He would get more touches. He would give us an elusive runner at that position that hasn't been there since Dennis Gentry.

I don't see any way AP makes the team. If it comes down to AP or Wolfe, you know what you're getting with AP. He's a veteran and his best days are behind him. I still believe Wolfe has some upside and can develop into a good back. If God forbid Jones or Forte goes down, I'd much rather see Wolfe getting 10 carries a game than AP.

He's your best shot at the Darren Sproles "open field juke 'em out of their shoes" type of back, not Forte. I do not see Matt Forte developing into a 5'4" 165lb. lightning quick scatback, and I'm more than okay with that.

Capitol City Bears Rep, I totally agree with occasionally putting Hester in the backfield (not in a wildcat formation); that would be exciting! What would a defense do, put a LB on him?

Last year, there was nothing wrong with Jones, AP or Wolfe, and yet the coaches just elected to keep Forte in there forever and ever. I'm seriously worried that Forte will wear down midway through the season and possibly get hurt if the coaches don't let the other guys have their reps, and I mean Wolfe too, if he's on the roster. Some commentators were indicating that Forte didn't seem as fresh late in the season last year, and on the other hand, we have talent in our backup RBs. I know Forte makes Turner feel safer, but come on.

To Mike in Ft. Wayne
Hester has proven that he can get behind defenses and Bennett (Cutler's favorite target in his last season playing college ball) is only slightly slower, Knox has shown great speed and (although against lesser talent in college) has shown that he has talent. Tell me how opposing defenses would be able to cover all 3 at once and still worry about stopping the run?

Well done on the writing of this article Brad! There are some new faces this year that Coach Turner can use. Most Bears fans would tell you that the defense unit is still the problem for this team. This is a make or break season for the Bears. Tommy Harris, Wally, and Other nned to step up for the Bears.

With Brett coming back to the Vikings, and the 3-4 being used by the Packers, there are strong chance that the Bears make it into the post season by the skin of their theeth. This year wills et the foundation for success or failure for this franchise period. Injuries will be the teams worst enemy, not the schedule this season.

to bearfan1973,hester may be able to catch the ball now....knox is pretty fast...and bennett looked ok.We will c when the season starts...thats for sure....but my point still being they have to stretch the field before the run game is succsessful.And defenses are not goin to worrie about all 3 unless they prove they can catch the ball..they havent proven anything to me yet...hencefourth..when i see cutler stick a ball in thier chests and they hold on i might change my opinon.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 7, 2009 5:43 AM.

25 days to Camp: Revisiting the Bears' top issues this summer was the previous entry in this blog.

23 days to Camp: Examining the Bears at defensive tackle is the next entry in this blog.

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