Seventh in a series
Forte-Bush blend gives Bears NFC Norths best run game
The last time the Bears had two running backs of the Matt Forte-Michael Bush caliber, they went to the 2005 playoffs and the 2006 Super Bowl with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. They didnt like each other but the Bears were a combined 24-8, getting 1,607 rushing yards and nine TDs in 2005 and 1,857 and 12 TDs plus some pass-receiving contributions.
Forte and Bush both have career averages of 4.2 yards per carry. Bush at 243 pounds has 15 rushing TDs the past two seasons, the same number as Forte for his career, and Forte caught 52 passes last season despite missing nearly five games with a knee injury. Forte also stands No. 2 in the NFL among running backs for sure-handedness, second-best in drop percentage behind on New Orleans Pierre Thomas among running backs, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
The Minnesota Vikings still have Adrian Peterson, pending his return from a season-ending torn ACL. But Petersons carries and yardage have declined each of the past three seasons and he is not the AP of three years ago. Peterson also ranks second-worst among running backs for dropped passes at 11.9 percent, per PFF.
It may indeed be a passing league but the Bears have positioned themselves to win with more than Jay Cutlers right arm.
I think you need to have two good backs, and we have two good backs, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Of course, we love Matt, and were excited about having Mike, and we like 25 Armando Allen, too. Were excited about our blend back there. We think that they all complement each other, and I think theyre all going to be able to find their niche and make big plays for us.
2011 in review
Forte was a disproportionate part of the offense before his injury early in the Kansas City game, earning his first selection to the NFC Pro Bowl squad and playing in the game (in case there were questions about the recovery status of his knee).
Forte finished with 997 yards and the best per-carry average (4.9 yards) of his career.
As they did with Kevin Jones and Chester Taylor in previous seasons, the Bears added what they thought was dependable depth in Marion Barber behind Forte. Barber did finish with six rushing TDs and 108 yards in the Denver game but his mental errors against the loss to the Broncos were so egregious that he played sparingly against Seattle and was inactive the final two games.
The wild card became Kalil Bell, himself a 100-yard rusher at Green Bay. But his fumbling remained a concern and Armando Allen was given a look in the Green Bay game when he average 3.6 yards per carry.
2012 training camp What to Watch
Running back: Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Kahlil Bell, Armando Allen, Harvey Unga, Lorenzo Booker
Fullback: Tyler Clutts
Fortes appearance in training camp will be a daily story but ultimately the franchise back will report and play. His franchise tag guarantees him 7.74 million, or about 484,000 per game. And the calendar is not the friend of 26-year-old running backs.
Coaches are not expected to use Forte heavily through camp regardless of when he appears. Bush has used the minicamp time in Fortes absence to gain experience in the revised offense, a net gain for the Bears overall.
I do feel like I still have to earn the respect of the guys yet, though, Bush said. I haven't done anything yet, and won't until we really start playing football when we get to camp. Which is expected. You know what I'm saying: it's expected. And I'll do it. I'll do just that.
The No. 3 spot is a question. Bell is vulnerable because of fumbling. Allen showed some promise, is undersized at 190 pounds, but is a different type of back from Forte (218 pounds) or Bush (243). Unga missed all of last year with personal issues and was a supplemental draft choice at 237 pounds.
The second question is whether the Bears will carry a fullback. Clutts was a factor as a lead blocker and will play special teams as a blocker and part of coverage units.