Bears coach Lovie Smith said he expects Matt Forte to return this season despite suffering a sprained MCL in his right knee in the Bears' 10-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Soldier Field.
''Can't tell you exactly when or whether it's this week or next week or whatever, but hopefully we'll get him back soon,'' Smith said at his Monday press conference at Halas Hall. We're still evaluating him. He looked pretty good this morning. But it is an MCL sprain. He didn't finish the game, so there is concern.''
It remains to be seen how eager Forte will push the issue of a quick return, considering he will be a free agent this season after turning down an offer from the Bears that reportedly would be worth $14 million in guaranteed money.
''I don't think that'll come into play at all,'' Smith said. ''I think all players in the NFL will try to do whatever they can to help their team win. We will not play a player that's injured and once you have a healthy player, I think they're all ready to go. And I know that's the case with Matt Forte. He can't wait to get back on the football field to help his team win.''
While Forte is out, the Bears will start Marion Barber at running back, with Kahlil Bell in Barber's complementary role. Barber rushed for 44 yards on 14 carries (3.1 avg.) against the Chiefs. Bell rushed for 34 yards on four carries, including a 26-yard run.
Forte was having a breakout season when he was injured -- leading all NFL running backs in yards from scrimmage with 1,475 through 11 games. His average of 139.1 yards from scrimmage per game was the second most in Bears history behind the great Walter Payton (151.5 in 1977).
But his pace had slowed down noticeably recently. Forte averaged 155 yards from scrimmage in the Bears first eight games, but half that -- 78 yards - in his three games prior to Sunday. He had rushed for 12 yards on five carries when he was hurt on a tackle by Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson.
Smith said he feels good about having Barber and Bell replace Forte. Barber has rushed for 281 yards on 76 carries (3.7 yards per carry) and leads the Bears with five rushing touchdowns. Bell has rushed for 57 yards on 15 carries this season.
''Marion did some good things [against the Chiefs], like he did the week before in Oakland,'' he said. ''And for Kahlil Bell, to be primarily a special teams player and get in and give us quality reps at the running back position ... I like the way the No. 2 and No. 3 tailback stepped up for us yesterday.''
Though Barber will start, he is more of a complement to Forte than a replacement. Bell is more of a versatile run-pass threat.
''[Barber's] a different running back than Matt Forte,'' Smith said. ''We won't shift him out an awful lot, during the course of a game. He's not that type of player. He's more an in-the-tackles type of runner. Kahlil can probably do more of the things that Matt Forte can do.''