Countdown to Camp: Forte should resemble his rookie form

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This is Part 2 of the 10-part position analysis leading up to the start of the Bears’ 2010 training camp in Bourbonnais.

When we see Matt Forte on the field in 2010, he’ll look a lot like he did in his rookie season two years ago. In more ways than one.

Following an excellent rookie season in 2008 when he amassed 1,238 yards and 8 touchdowns on 316 carries, expectations were high for Forte heading into last season. However, some feared he was taking on an impossible workload and was headed for trouble.

As it turned out, those critics were right. Forte suffered a hamstring injury in OTAs last off-season and then injured his knee midway through the 2009 season. His production dropped off considerably as he visibly lacked the same burst and explosion he demonstrated as a rookie.

After several months to heal, Forte should be back to normal as he has displayed this off-season the same kind of speed he had in 2008. It’s not just his physical health that will resemble that of his rookie season, however. With Mike Martz’s pass-happy offense installed, we could see Forte emerge as a receiver out of the backfield. His 63 receptions were most among running backs in his first year and he should have a big role in the passing game this year as well.

To help ensure Forte’s longevity, the Bears recognized the need for a complementary back and signed former Minnesota Vikings backup running back Chester Taylor this off-season. Taylor is seemingly the perfect backup to Forte because not only does he pack a punch when running — which is the kind of blunt force you want out of your backup running back — but Taylor has good hands out of the backfield as well. The hope is that when Forte runs around defenders for a few series, Taylor can come in and run over the tired opposition.

Although Taylor, 30, has reached an age when most running backs typically break down, he still has a lot of tread on the tires, having played only one of his eight seasons as a featured back. In that 2006 season with the Minnesota Vikings — the year before the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson — Taylor recorded 1,216 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns on 303 carries. The Bears should be able to milk a few productive years out of him before he starts to break down.

After Forte and Taylor, the depth chart becomes a question mark. Garrett Wolfe and Kahlil Bell will compete for a roster spot. Wolfe seemingly has the edge because he has become a solid special teams player. But Bell showed a better burst and feel for offense last year after being brought up from the practice squad midseason.

With the offense likely to be a pass-first, pass-heavy unit, don’t expect to hear much of Lovie Smith’s “get off the bus running” cliché. But that doesn’t mean we won’t see a healthy dose of the 1-2 combo of Forte and Taylor this year. The object of Martz’ offense is to attack and to score quickly. Assuming the Bears can build up a respectable lead, and the defense can preserve it, we should see a lot of the duo as they try to run out the clock late in the game.

Even if they don’t carry the ball often, the ability of Forte and Taylor to catch passes should still ensure they are integral parts of the offense this year.

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