Kahlil Bell is moving up in the world, or at least in the world as defined by the Bears' depth chart at running back.
With starter Matt Forte sidelined with a sprained knee since early in the Chiefs game on Dec. 4, and with former No. 2 man Marion Barber sitting out Sunday night with a calf injury, Bell took the opportunity to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with -- now and in the future.
"I've said it since I got into this league, I believe I'm an NFL tailback," said Bell, who was originally signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2009 but cut before the season and signed with the Bears. "I believe I'm an every-down back, and I believe I will be a starter in this league.
"It was never my goal to be on a practice squad or be a third-string running back. But good things come to those who wait. I've been patient my whole career here with the Bears, and now that I have an opportunity I'm just going to try to run with it and showcase my ability."
Bell ran for 121 yards on 23 carries in the 35-21 loss to the Packers Christmas night. Since Forte was hurt, the former third-stringer has 260 yards on 51 carries, a 5.1-yard average, even better than the 4.9 yards Forte was averaging at the time of his injury. This Sunday, Bell will have payback on his mind when the Bears face the Vikings.
RB Kahlil Bell
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday afternoon that he would be comfortable with Bell as the team's No. 2 running back behind Forte next season, even if the third-year player has higher aspirations.
"And not just based on that effort (Sunday night)," Smith said. "But based on what he's done his entire time here, you would feel comfortable. In a lot of players you wonder, 'Can they do it?' You may be in the backup role, but you've never played. But when you see a player in a backup role, and he performs that way, you have to be excited about his future.
"Kahlil is a young player, and he's been brought up through our system, too. You like to see that: a guy who was on our practice squad, worked himself up to a special teams player, third running back, backup running back to the starter, and then you perform that way, you have to like that."
Bell is a restricted free agent after this season, and his market value spiked with Sunday night's performance on the national stage, but it's doubtful the Bears would let him get away.
"It was impressive what he did (Sunday) night," Smith said. "To finally get your chance to be the guy; to be the man. I thought he ran hard from start to finish."
A pair of fumbles detracted from Bell's effort, and although the Bears recovered both, the last thing an NFL running back wants to be known as is a fumbler.
"If you're looking at some things that he has to improve on, he does have to hold on to the ball," Smith said. "But he made excellent cuts in the open field, he ran with power, and he caught the ball out of the backfield. Everything you want a good running back in the NFL to do, he did. On a national stage, so you have to feel good about what he did his first time as a bell cow."
And Bell is already looking forward to doing it again Sunday in Minneapolis against the team that cut him.
"Nobody feels good about the team that let them go," Bell said. "They obviously felt I wasn't adequate enough to be a part of their organization, which is, in my mind, a blessing because I love it here in Chicago and I love being with the Bears. But hopefully I can make some plays and show them otherwise.
"Personally, I don't really like Minnesota. I was there for a short stint, so it's not going to take much for me to be motivated this game."
--DT Stephen Paea, a second-round pick, had four tackles, tops among Bears defensive linemen.
--TE Kellen Davis caught a one-yard TD toss, his team-best fifth receiving score of the season. His five TDs have come on a total of just 18 receptions for 206 yards.
--RB Kahlil Bell, in addition to 121 rushing yards on 23 carries, caught four passes for 38 yards. He has caught at least four passes in three straight games.
--CB Charles Tillman had the Bears' only sack Sunday night, his first since 2005 and only the third of his nine-year career.
--WR Devin Hester's 35-yard kickoff return Sunday night was his longest in nine games, covering 12 attempts, since his 98-yard TD against the Vikings on Oct. 16. His previous best since then was just 25 yards.
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