The Chicago Bears yesterday signed Matt Forte to a four-year deal, ending a long-running saga. After more than a year of negotiations, the team's starting ball carrier has signed on the dotted line and will be in training camp from Day 1.
In the wake of this exciting news, let's break down the team's running back situation as we head into camp, which begins in eight days.
We have outlined in detail Forte's accomplishments since joining the league in 2008. Few running backs in the NFL have been as productive as Forte over the last four years. He has consistently proven himself to be a workhorse that is just as adept as a pass catcher as he is a ball carrier.
RB Matt Forte
Kelley L. Cox/US Presswire
As an all-around back, Forte is as good as they get. There is some worry about his right knee, which suffered a torn ACL in Week 13 last year, although all signs point toward a full recovery.
Despite missing the team's offseason activities, Forte will show up to camp on time, in shape and ready to play. In new coordinator Mike Tice's offense, which will revolve around the run game, Forte should be able to easily earn his second trip to the Pro Bowl in 2012.
Yet, with Michael Bush in the fold, look for the team to reduce Forte's touches, in the hopes of keeping him healthy throughout the campaign. Bush, in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders, has shown the ability to play a complementary role, and can handle a full workload if called on to do so. Working in tandem with Darren McFadden, Bush played the power role, working between the tackles and in short-yardage situations.
Yet Bush is much more than a power runner. He has very good hands for a player of his size (6-1, 245) and can be a weapon as a pass catcher. Additionally, he is outstanding as a pass blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, no player in the NFL has taken as many third-down snaps as Bush over the past three seasons.
Bush isn't anywhere near as explosive as Forte but he's a very well-rounded tailback that can serve in a number of different roles, including replacing Marion Barber in goal line situations.
It's assumed the team's third and final running back job will go to Kahlil Bell, who re-signed as a restricted free agent this offseason. After injuries to the starters last year, Bell was asked to start the team's final two contests. He showed well as a runner and receiver, ending the year with 337 rushing yards and 133 receiving yards.
Bell's biggest negative is his slippery hands. In his two starts in 2011, he fumbled the ball three times. There is no easier way into coach Lovie Smith's doghouse than putting the ball on the ground. As long as he's able to hang onto the ball in the preseason, he'll serve as the club's No. 3 ball carrier.
Yet if Bell struggles, it's possible Armando Allen could leapfrog his way onto the 53-man roster. So far this offseason, Allen has been outstanding, demonstrating quickness, hands and great open-field ability. He's a smaller back (5-10, 190) that likely could serve the change-of-pace role better than Bell. If Allen continues to stand out during camp, and Bell struggles at all, a full-on competition between the players will ensue.
RB Kahlil Bell
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Rounding out the roster are Alvester Alexander and Harvey Unga. Alexander was signed as an undrafted free agent shortly after the 2012 NFL Draft. He's a scat back (5-10, 206) that has looked pretty good so far this offseason. A strong camp will land him on Chicago's practice squad.
Unga has dealt with injuries and personal issues since being selected by the Bears in the 2010 supplemental draft. He's a big-bodied back (6-0, 247) with good hands. Unfortunately, he's buried on the depth chart and will need to be out of this world in Bourbonnais if he's going to make the team.
At fullback, Tyler Clutts is the incumbent but he'll be pushed for the starting gig by Draylen Ross, a converted tight end. Clutts has struggled as a pass catcher this offseason. He packs a punch as a lead blocker but is inconsistent in that area. To fight off Ross, who has much better hands, Clutts needs to start hauling in passes and laying out linebackers, otherwise he could be out of a job.
Forte and Bush will be the team's No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. Barring injury, they will handle almost all of the touches this year.
Behind them, Allen and Bell will compete for the third and final roster spot. They are two very different players and it appears Allen has a skill set that could help the team more than Bell. For that reason, Allen could end up on the final roster.
There is the possibility the Bears will keep four tight ends this year, which would mean the end of the line for Clutts and Ross. In order for him to keep his job in 2012, Clutts must truly shine in Bourbonnais.
Starters: Matt Forte and Michael Bush
Backup: Armando Allen
Fullback: None (four tight ends)
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.