The expectations for Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, working in Marc Trestman's offense this season, are through the roof. Historically Trestman has always used his running backs heavily, not only as ball carriers but also as receivers. Forte, 28-years-old, could peak this season in terms of his development as a player. His skill set appears perfectly suited for a West Coast system, and from what we saw in training camp and the preseason, Trestman is going to lean on his workhorse back.
"He's going to have a role, no doubt," Trestman said yesterday. "You saw it in the preseason, the minimal time that Matt played, he's going to have touches. Obviously he's going to be carrying the football – he's going to be the significant ball carrier in the offense. And he certainly will be a part of what we do in the passing game."
This is great news for Forte, who was grossly underused last season under former coordinator Mike Tice.
"I'm excited, man. We have not only the passing game that Coach Trestman has put in, but the running game as well," said Forte. "I'm just excited for the offensive line and us as a group coming together and just try to be dominant on both sides of the football. And also in the running game and in the passing game, not just trying to get a run here and then everybody starts throwing the ball."
Forte has always been a very good lateral runner. He hasn't bee as effective as a straight-up ball carrier, as evidenced by his struggles in short yardage throughout his career. As such, the zone-blocking system of coordinator Aaron Kromer suits Forte's running style, one that will allow him to utilize his field visions and cut-back ability.
"We think Matt is a perfect fit for this offense," Kromer said, "not only because he is a good runner in the running game, he can catch the ball, he can pass protect, he can split out and play wide receiver. He gives you a lot of options."
And that's the key with Forte. His versatility allows Trestman to line him up at any position on the field – in the backfield, in the slot, at H-back, out wide – creating some juicy mismatches.
"[We're using] a lot of different looks with him because of his ability to catch the ball," Jay Cutler said. "He showed that early in his career here and with his ability to run the zone and all the other different running schemes we have, we should see him in a lot of different spots hopefully if we're clicking, if we're doing things the right way."
And when defenses want to creep up and focus too much on Forte, that's when Brandon Marshall shines. By using Forte correctly, Trestman has endless options in play call and design, which will open up things for all the other weapons he has at his disposal.
Briggs ready for Williams to return
"Our chemistry is really good," Briggs said. "It's a new chemistry, and a lot of guys, we're all kind of learning each other. But we get along fine."
Briggs will line up next to newcomers James Anderson and D.J. Williams in the season opener against the Bengals on Sunday. Williams hasn't practiced or played since suffering a calf injury the first weekend of training camp. There's bound to be some rust, and conditioning could be an issue, but Briggs doesn't see it being a problem.
"I did it (missed the preseason); Brian's done it," said Briggs. "Two years ago I hurt my knee in I think the fourth or fifth practice and missed the whole preseason. My first game was against Atlanta. We came out, we played well and beat Atlanta pretty bad. I had a few extra loafs that game, more than I probably usually did but technique-wise, I was fine."
Trestman has already expressed concern about Williams' ability to play 60-70 snaps on Sunday and said that rookie Jon Bostic, who played well in place of Williams this preseason, could also get some first-team reps. Yet Briggs quickly shot down any notion of a linebacker controversy.
"Let's clarify this," Briggs said. "When we opened camp, D.J. Williams was our starting middle linebacker. James Anderson was our starting SAM and Lance Briggs our starting WILL. D.J. Williams got injured, which in turn gave an opportunity for Jon Bostic to not only showcase his skills but to learn. He got a chance to run with the ones. Now, D.J. Williams is back from injury and D.J. Williams is our starting MIKE.
"The good thing about Bostic is, whether he's ready or he's not ready, he doesn't have to be right now. There are things that are going to go on this season and when his number is called, he'll be [ready]. It's not a situation where we're hurting and we need him to step up right now. When it naturally happens, it'll happen. When the coaches decide Jon's going to be in, he'll be in. Until then, we have very capable linebackers."
Briggs said, at this point in the rookie's career, it would probably do Bostic more good to sit than to be on the field.
"He made a good name for himself in the preseason. He did what you're supposed to do," said Briggs. "When I was a rookie, as much as I thought I should've been a starter, I respected the fact our coaches told me from game one I wasn't going to be the starter. For me it just means that I need to keep doing things to make the coach want to put me in. Whether that be on special teams or whatever it is, however I can get an opportunity, that's what I need to do."
In finishing his press conference, Briggs made light of Urlacher's recent comments that the Bears used designated "dive" players to fake injuries and slow down opposing offenses.
"It's crazy because I was like thinking, ‘Man, I remember that.' I was that guy," Briggs said. "I remember, I'd forget. I couldn't remember what the signal was because every game, I was like, ‘Ah, I'm the dive guy. But what was the signal?' I never did the dive because I forgot the signal every game. But that was crazy."
Fitness level key for Jeffery
When asked about the emergence of receiver Alshon Jeffery, who appears to have taken a big step forward in his second year, Kromer talked about his wideout's new body type. Jeffery ballooned to a reported 233 pounds his junior season at South Carolina, but has been a svelte 216 since coming to Chicago.
"You know Alshon has been a true pro since we got here, since this new staff got here, and he's been impressive because he's changed his body from college," Kromer said. "He's really worked to become fit athlete. So, that was his first step. He had the talent and now his talent shows up on an every play basis because he is in shape to do it."
Cutler a Gannon fan
In order to fully grasp Trestman's offense, Cutler has turned to watching game film of former quarterbacks who worked under his new head coach. One of those, Rich Gannon, was an MVP for the Raiders in Trestman's offense in 2002.
"We've watched Rich Gannon. He slung it around," Cutler said. "They had a lot of empty sets, a lot of shifts and motions and quick games. The ball was gone. He was fun to watch. He threw it from about every angle possible. He was very, very successful under Trestman."
Cutler said visual representation of Trestman's plays and philosophies, acquired through film study, is as beneficial as any other comprehension technique.
"It's so much better," said Cutler. "I mean, you can look at a picture and look at drawings and arrows stuff all day long but until you really execute it and see it executed right or watch it on film and see somebody else do it does it really start to click with you. So if he installs a play and then he shows someone in the past doing it, you're like 'OK, I see how that works, I see how it fits in the defense.' It becomes 3-D instead of just a sheet of paper."
Jermon Bushrod as a two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle and a Super Bowl champion. In the Bears locker room, when he talks, people listen. Throughout the offseason, Bushrod has preached about the importance of the offensive line and how success starts up front.
"If you're an offensive lineman, that's pretty much the message you've gotten since Day 1," said Bushrod. "You're only going to have success if the offensive line does well. They can't do it by themselves. It's not an individual game. We're a unit up front, we have to do our job and do whatever we have to do to let these playmakers do their thing."
It's a message that has obviously resonated with the younger players, as rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills have been impressive with the first group up to this point. Yet there's still a lot of work to do, starting with Sunday when the Bears face one of the best defensive lines in the league.
"I think they're two very talented kid," Bushrod said. "They have very, very bright futures. Sky's the limit for both of them as long as they continue to work hard and keep that same mindset that they have.
"These guys come into work every single day and they're working hard. They're rookies so you know everything's not going to be perfect, but at the end of the day, they're willing to work. They're willing to work hard. They're putting the work in the classroom. They just want to get better. As long as you've got them there, you have them in that mindset, the rest will take care of itself."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.