Bears' farewell to Matt Forte not a surprise


Bears' farewell to Matt Forte not a surprise

It was a message and you knew it at the time.

In Matt Forte’s otherwise largely empty locker amid the end-of-season cleanout by players of their lockers, a T-shirt with the word “Workhorse” rested on a hanger. It was what Forte wanted his legacy to be as well as a statement for whatever the future held.

“You see how tattered and beat up and stuff [it is],” Forte said, then smiled. “It’s not like me. I’m still good. I just wanted to leave it in there because all my hard work, blood, sweat, tears is in this shirt, too. I wanted to kind of just leave it in my locker along with some stuff.”

If there was an air of finality to it all, Forte understood that. When he had approached the Bears with an offer to restructure the final year in his four-year contract, the Bears hadn’t show any real interest in reworking the deal and give him what would have been an extension on the contract.

The lack of interest on the part of the Bears became “official” on Friday when Forte confirmed via his Instagram account that the Bears would not be attempting to re-sign the franchise’s No. 2 all-time running back now or when free agency formally opens next month.

"Despite my wishes, my days as a member of the Chicago Bears have sadly come to an end," Forte posted. "I was informed earlier this week from the GM that they will not be attempting to re-sign me in free agency. I will remain forever grateful for my time spent in Chicago and being able to play for an organization with such a rich history. My only regret is not being able to win a Lombardi trophy for the best fans in all of sports. I'm excited about the next chapter of my NFL career. But, Chicago will always be home. God Bless and Bear Down!"

[MORE BEARS: End of an era - Bears inform Matt Forte they won't re-sign him]

Forte’s departure places the football and running game squarely in the hands of Jeremy Langford, who had breakout games filling in while Forte missed three games with a knee injury, and Ka’Deem Carey, the Bears’ fourth-round picks in the past two drafts.

The step away from Forte was confirmed via statement from GM Ryan Pace.

“We recently met with Matt to inform him we will not extend a contract offer for the 2016 season. These decisions are never easy, especially given what Matt has meant to our team and community. We have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Matt is one of the all-time great Bears and did an excellent job for us on and off the field last season. He was a tremendous teammate. We thank him for his professionalism and wish him the very best as he continues his career.”

The decision on Forte is one of several major personnel moves coming in the next couple of months, including several affecting what has been the starting offensive lineup the past few seasons.

The Bears are expected to use their franchise tag to buy time for working out a long-term contract with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. The first day for applying the tag is Tuesday, Feb. 16, for a period running through Tuesday, Mar. 1. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod is not expected back with the Bears after losing his starting job during the season to Charles Leno Jr. Tight end Martellus Bennett is under contract through the 2016 season but his situation is fuzzy after a holdout last offseason and Bennett missing five games late in the season with a rib injury.

Money matters

In 2012, after Phil Emery replaced Jerry Angelo as general manager, Forte signed a four-year contract worth $30.4 million, including $17.1 million guaranteed. That deal paid Forte $8 million last season, a figure that was not going to be approached by the Bears in any scenario with Forte at age 30.

What the Forte exit does is leave the Bears with one of the lowest cap allotments in the NFL at running back, basically one-sixth of what Forte cost the Bears in 2014. Both Carey and Langford were fourth-round draft picks. Carey has a $710,000 cap hit for 2016, $600,000 in base salary, and Langford will cost the Bears $525,000 in base salary and $660,906 in total cap charge.

[MORE BEARS: Bears pay tribute to 'legend' that is Matt Forte]

The Bears hold a full deck of nine selections in this year’s NFL draft, including sixth-round picks acquired in the trades of Jared Allen and Jon Bostic. For what it is worth, the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos won Super Bowls in the 90's with outstanding run games built on Dorsey Levens and Terrell Davis, respectively, both sixth-round picks for their teams.

Superior career

Forte was an immediate starter after his selection in the second round of the 2008 draft, the round after the Bears chose Vanderbilt tackle Chris Williams. He started the first 60 games of his career before suffering a knee injury in 2011 and missing the final four games in the first of his two Pro Bowl seasons.

He is one of 12 players in NFL history with 8,000 career rushing yards and 4,000 career receiving yards and is one of five players in NFL history to have 1,200-plus yards from scrimmage in each of his first eight seasons, joining Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson and Ricky Watters.

In eight seasons with the Bears, Forte had 12,718 yards from scrimmage, rushing for 8,602 yards and adding 4,116 via pass receptions, marked by an NFL-record 102 catches in 2014. Forte ranks second in franchise history in yards from scrimmage, rushing yards, receptions (487), 100-yard rushing games (24), and games with 150 yards or more from scrimmage (25), trailing only Walter Payton in all five categories. With 45 rushing touchdowns and 19 receiving scores, his 64 total touchdowns are third in franchise history behind Payton and Neal Anderson. He is also sixth in franchise receiving yards.

[SHOP: Buy a Matt Forte jersey]

Forte’s eight seasons with 1,200 yards are second only to Payton’s 10. No other Bear has more than three. Forte (106.0 yards per game) and Payton (111.9 ypg) are the only two players in franchise history to average over 100 yards from scrimmage per game in the Bears careers.

A two-time Pro Bowl selection (2011, 2013), Forte leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage and games with 150 or more yards from scrimmage since entering the league in 2008. He is also fourth in rushing yards while ranking first among running backs in receptions and receiving yards and is third among running backs in receiving touchdowns during that time.

In 2014, he broke the NFL single-season mark for receptions by a running back with 102 and set the franchise single-season running back record for receiving yards (808) that year. A team-captain in 2015, Forte is a two-time recipient of the team’s Brian Piccolo Award (2008 and 2014), the team’s 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, and was one of eight NFL finalists for the 2015 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. 

Prince Amukamara and CDW surprise teens at MSI event


Prince Amukamara and CDW surprise teens at MSI event

This past Saturday, Prince Amukamara provided a great surprise when he showed up during a graduation ceremony to honor high school seniors who had been a part of the Museum of Science and Industry's (MSI) "Welcome to Science" initiative.

Students listened to brief speeches from CDW Vice President of Networking, Digital Workspace and Security Solutions, Bob Rossi, a number of Bears employees and Amukamara. 

Students engaged in open discussions on how they can further their dreams with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  And through a donation from CDW’s Tech Fore! Kids program, students got perhaps the biggest surpise of all, as they were provided new laptops. CDW continues to help enable the MSI the opportunity to work with youth and further their interaction with STEM.

CDW Tech Fore! has done previous work with Chicago Bulls College Prep, and other schools and Boys and Girls clubs over time. The MSI's program looks to provide a diverse array of teens the chance to dive deeper into what it takes to have a career in science. On top of this, students are able to collect service leearning hours while simultaneously furthering their leadership and public speaking skills. 

Three compulsories loom as make-or-breaks for Mitch Trubisky Bears 'installation'


Three compulsories loom as make-or-breaks for Mitch Trubisky Bears 'installation'

The popular focus of the Bears offseason has been on a new offensive coaching staff phasing in a radically different system and playbook, integrating new “weapons” brought other teams and other schemes, and fusing them all together around a trigger/detonator in the person of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

More than any of that, however, is Trubisky himself, the real linchpin “weapon.” All of the offseason additions, beginning with coaching staff, projects to make only marginal more impact than Dowell Loggains, Josh Bellamy, Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright if Trubisky himself is not much, much better than he was last season.

In three primary areas.

In figure skating and diving, the obligatory must-do’s were called “compulsories” – basic skills at which competitors were required to demonstrate proficiency. For Trubisky, improvements in three specific compulsories are the keys to this young quarterback’s development.

Trubisky is in his own molten state, still a raw, largely unknown with fewer NFL starts (12) than all but four projected starting quarterbacks (Jimmy Garoppolo, Pat Mahomes, AJ McCarron, Deshaun Watson) for 2018, but the poorest record (4-8) of any other anticipated starter, those four included. “Work in progress” is an understatement.

The Trubisky “installation” is in fact massive. Beyond the specifics of scheme, RPO’s and all the rest, Trubisky will go to training camp with precious little shared game experience with virtually any of his chief so-called weapons. Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson weren’t Bears last year. Kevin White worked chiefly with Mike Glennon and the No. 1 offense while Trubisky was primarily with the 2’s. Anthony Miller was in Memphis.

But the Trubisky developmental group – coach Matt Nagy, coordinator Mark Helfrich, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, backup Chase Daniel – has three chief points of attention with what was drafted to be the foundation of the franchise:

Rediscover accuracy

For all of the positives coming out of his abbreviated rookie season, Trubisky completed just 59.4 percent of his passes – not good enough for an offense based in significant part on ball control with the pass. Substandard receivers account for some of the accuracy issues for a quarterback who completed 68 percent in his one year as a college starter. But Mike Glennon completed two-thirds (66.4 percent) of his throws in his four games throwing to largely the same group.

More to a larger point, the Bears were 2-4 when Trubisky completed less than 60 percent of his throws. His completion rate is nothing short of pivotal in keeping possessions sets of downs and entire possessions on schedule, converting third downs and resting his defense.

Nagy dialed back the offense at one point during OTA’s, Trubisky played faster “and you saw completions out there,” Nagy said, “and that's what it's all about.”

Only the Carolina Panthers reached the playoffs with a quarterback (Cam Newton) completing less than 60 percent of his passes. Slightly better statistically, Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz (60.2) was leading the MVP discussion before a season-ending knee injury, and Blake Bortles (60.2) had Jacksonville a fourth-quarter away from the Super Bowl. But the Eagles and Jaguars were top-five in both scoring offense and scoring defense. And Nick Foles got the Eagles to a Lombardi Trophy completing 72.6 percent in the postseason filling in for Wentz.

Tom Brady completed 63.9 percent as a rookie and never below 60 percent in 17 years as a starter. Aaron Rodgers, never below 60 percent in 10 years as a starter. Drew Brees, 15 of his 16 seasons at 60-plus, including the last 14 straight. Ben Roethlisberger, 12 of 14 seasons at 60-plus percent. Peyton Manning, 15 of his 17 seasons at 60-plus percent. Those five account for 17 Super Bowl appearances.

Trubisky was drafted to be that echelon of quarterback. Reaching that level begins with completing passes.

Stay the ball-security course

Trubisky may not have been dominant in any area as a rookie, but he bought into the emphasis placed on ball security by John Fox and coordinator Dowell Loggains. He ranked 12th with a very respectable 2.1-percent interception rate. Of the 11 passers rated ahead of him, only Jacoby Brisset in Indianapolis failed to get his team to .500, and eight of those 11 were in the playoffs. Ball security matters.

And it is something to watch through training camp and preseason. Adam Gase made ball security the No. 1 objective with Jay Cutler when Gase arrived in 2015. Cutler went a dozen straight practices and his 33-pass preseason without throwing an interception. The carryover was obvious; Cutler had the best season (92.3) and second-best interception rate of his career in 2015.

The same is expected, and needed, from Trubisky for the new offense, and the “old” defense, to work.

“He had, I think was a three-to-one or maybe even a four-to-one touchdown to interception ratio in college,” Helfrich said. “That works. That’s a good thing. We need to continue that. We can’t put the defense in a bad situation, our team in a situation, because there’s times in the NFL they’re going to get you and I think a quarterback kind of has that innate ability to take care of the football versus turning it over when he, for lack of a better word, panics.” 

Trubisky lost two fumbles in the span of 12 games. Very respectable and a strong starting point for his year two.

Get the ball off on time

Trubisky in 2017 tied for fourth in percentage of pass plays sacked (8.6), a problem that might be laid at the feet of an offensive line forced by injuries into seven different starting-five combinations. Might, but far from entirely.

Nagy’s passing offense is rooted in timing. Receivers during practices have precision drilled into them, meaning being exactly where they’re supposed to be at precisely the instant they’re supposed to be there. Trubisky’s tutoring has stressed plays being on time.

Only the Buffalo Bills reached the playoffs with a quarterback (Tyrod Taylor, 9.9) taking sacks at a rate higher than 6.6 percent. Alex Smith went down at a rate of 6.5 percent running the Kansas City offense under Nagy and coach Andy Reid.

Trubisky’s mobility is an obvious asset for extending plays. But getting the ball out of his hands is the goal, and his decision-making and execution will be key in how long his line has to sustain blocks. Trubisky early on evinced a grasp of balancing the reward of rescuing a play under pressure against the risk of taking a sack.

“Ball security is very important so I'm just trying to take care of the football,” Trubisky said not long after taking over for Glennon last season. “But at the same time you want to stay aggressive and you could say the sacks are a result of that.”