When the season kicks off in Indianapolis on September 7, it won’t matter to me who’s taking snaps from center. Nor do I care who is catching passes or even the ratio of offensive plays to kick returns for one Devin Hester.
What I’m interested — and anxious — to see is how much different the running game will be sans Cedric Benson and the turnstile we knew as Fred Miller. There are many questions about the running game that will have to be answered before we can accurately project how the season will transpire.
Will Chris Williams shake his back problems and earn the starting job at left tackle? Will his insertion into the starting lineup and the switch of John Tait from left to right tackle improve both positions as was the original plan? Can Terrence Metcalf, John St. Clair, or whoever ends up starting at left guard fill the void left by long-time Pro Bowler Ruben Brown? Can Olin Kreutz, who has battled with his Achilles problem for most of his career, stay healthy for the whole year? And for that matter, can Tait and Roberto Garza, too?
If all goes as expected, the Bears should improve last year’s anemic running game. Rookie running back Matt Forte has impressed coaches and teammates thus far throughout training camp. There already are noticeable differences between he and his predecessor such as his professional work ethic, humbleness, and extra burst with the football.
In seven days, when the Bears kick off their preseason against the Chiefs, we’ll get a small glimpse of what Matt Forte brings to the table, but we won’t know for sure until the regular season begins. After all, Benson ran with power and authority last preseason, even breaking the arm of a Houston Texan after running him over. If you recall, Benson even received praise from Kreutz and the rest of the offensive line, which was surprising given that he stuck out like a sore thumb from the moment he entered that locker room.
It won’t matter whether it’s Grossman or Orton calling signals because we know that neither guy can carry a team by himself. In football, it all starts up front with the offensive line, and you have to be able to run the football to be successful in the NFL — or at any level.
I’m going to be keeping my eyes on Forte and the running game for the next five weeks because if the Bears are going to have any chance at being competitive this season, they need to have success moving the ball on the ground. A ball control offense that eats up the game clock, paired with a reinvigorated defense and the two-time defending top special teams unit in the NFL will be just the recipe the Bears need to be competitive in the NFC North and make a run for the division crown.