For much of the past offseason the Bears have been preparing for life without Matt Forte. Not explicitly anything directed at Forte personally, just at not having their offense as mightily dependent on one running back.
Trading for Brandon Marshall, drafting Alshon Jeffery, drafting a receiver-type tight end (Evan Rodriguez), signing another 28-year-old running back with starter experience (Marion Barber last year, Michael Bush this year) all the moves tilt the offense away from reliance on Forte.
Forte is not in minicamp, having still not signed his franchise tag of 7.7 million nor agreed with the Bears on a long-term deal. Indeed, if that does not happen before Monday, July 16, the franchise tag is his only option for 2012.
Teammates have said on more than one occasion that they expect Forte to be with them this season, and most anticipate him being in Bourbonnais for training camp.
But nothing is waiting on Forte.
I know Matt Forte, coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday. Im sure hes getting ready to go. But in the meantime, the best thing we can do for the Chicago Bears is just keep this train going, which weve done.
Put simply, Fortes leverage for getting the Bears offer up to the level he wants is diminishing. The Bears put what they thought was a fair offer on the table at the outset of last training camp. They increased the guaranteed money slightly over the ensuing months.
Forte then suffered a knee injury and missed most of the last five games. Playing the Pro Bowl was a health statement but the only real movement the Bears have made since then was to add players to bolster their passing offense and to deepen the depth chart behind Forte.
Smith, who mentioned Bush first, unprompted, in his introductory comments after practice Tuesday, was not sending a message to Forte. But the message was there and unmistakable: If the Bears have to start the season with Bush, who is signed for four years, they will.
Its not like hes new to us, Smith said. We had a chance to see him up close and personal last year. Big running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield, can block with his size.
I think hes a complete player and weve been very pleased. Getting all these reps has helped him a lot getting the offense down quickly.
Forte had two years under Ron Turner, then two years under Mike Martz. Now the coordinator is Mike Tice. Strange as it sounds, Forte will have some catching up to do.
When he shows up, Smith said, well be ready to coach him up then.