Barber & Bell: The new-look backfield

Matt Forte's sprained MCL could keep him out for the remainder of the regular season, which means the Bears will be relying on Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell to carry the rushing load.

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte was having an All-Pro season before last week's game. He was leading the league in total yards from scrimmage and served as the foundation for Chicago's offense.

Yet a simple off-tackle run in the first quarter of Sunday's contest resulted in a grade II MCL sprain, the recovery from which will be anywhere from 2-6 weeks. It's likely Forte will miss the remainder of the regular season.

This comes on the heels of the Bears losing starting quarterback Jay Cutler to a thumb injury two weeks ago. The offense now has to go forward without its two best players, both of whom were headed to the Pro Bowl this year.

"Matt is a huge part of the offense so it's always tough to lose a guy [whom] your offense kind of revolves around," said Caleb Hanie after the loss to Kansas City. "But the other guys played well, Marion [Barber] and Kahlil [Bell] came in and gave us a little spark."

RB Marion Barber
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire

Coach Lovie Smith has instilled a "next man up" mentality with this team. When one player goes down, the next guy on the depth chart must step in and get the job done. As such, the Bears will lean heavily on a combination of Barber and Bell to keep the ground gaming moving.

Barber rushed 14 times on Sunday for 44 yards, while Bell chipped in 34 yards on 4 carries. Neither player is as shifty or as skilled in the open field as Forte but both bring a hard-nosed running style that should pay dividends as temperatures outdoors continue to drop.

Bell hadn't carried the ball since Week 2 this season, yet he said it wasn't hard to shake off the rust.

"It's not difficult. This is what I do for a living. This is my life," Bell said. "I've always stayed ready for my opportunity. It's unfortunate that my opportunity came at the hands of an injury."

Barber has only been a full-time starter for brief stretches during his six-plus years in the NFL. For most of his career, he's served as part of a platoon system. He's at his best in a complementary role and hasn't had a lot of success when asked to carry a full load. He's also been more prone to injury when asked to do so.

Which is why Bell should see plenty of carries for as long as Forte is out. Bell isn't outstanding in any phase of the game but he's a smart player that works hard and has good athleticism. He won't carry your fantasy team but he'll be a solid contributor to Chicago's offense.

"Kahlil is a very, very talented back," FB Tyler Clutts said. "He does a good job making sure that he's ready if an opportunity arises. Unfortunately because of Matt it came. He's a completely capable and explosive back."

For his part, Clutts said there's no difference blocking for a bruiser like Barber or a shiftier back like Forte.

"It's not something you really focus on as a blocker," Clutts said. "You can't really change your technique. You've got to do it the same way and they will then implement their style accordingly."

With Barber and Bell splitting carries, Chicago's rushing game won't be drastically hindered, like the passing game was when Cutler was lost. Forte was a big-play threat unlike any other in the NFL, so the Bears will be forced to grind it out on the ground. That shouldn't be a problem as Barber is the type of powerful runner that can wear down a defense. And with Bell providing some explosiveness, the run game shouldn't miss a beat.

Now it's up to the offensive line to open some holes.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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