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
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."