Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte was selected to his second straight Pro Bowl last season after a campaign in which he finished second in the league in rushing yards (1,339) and third in yards from scrimmage (1,933). Forte is one of the top all-around backs in the league and since 2008 only two players in the NFL, Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, have compiled more yards from scrimmage.
Yet age waits for no man and at 28 years old, Forte is approaching the end of his career as a productive No. 1 runner. It's been well documented that NFL running backs begin to decline dramatically once they turn 29. So realistically, we can only expect two more top-tier seasons from Forte, at best.
For that reason, GM Phil Emery invested a fourth-round pick in this year's draft in former Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey. Carey appears to be the heir apparent in Chicago's backfield but that transition is a few years down the road.
This year, Carey will complement Forte in a backup role. It's a position the Bears recently attempted to fill with veterans Marion Barber and Michael Bush, neither of whom lived up to expectations.
So what can we expect from a Carey/Forte rotation this year. First, let's analyze Carey's running style.
"I would definitely say my running style is hungry, it's aggressive, it's fighting for every yard for my team on every down," Carey said.
Carey isn't a bruising ball carrier and won't be running over too many defenders but the film shows a player who always keeps his legs churning. That, combined with his vision and quick feet, should give the Bears a major boost in short-yardage situations, an area in which they've struggled for years.
If Carey can consistently pound the ball into the end zone from three yards in, that alone would make him an asset on offense.
"He's a guy that you really have got to tackle. He's not going down; you're not going to trip this guy. He's not going to go down by incidental contact. You're going to have to tackle him. You're going to have to wrap him up and bring him down. He's not going down on his own," Emery said. "He's one of the runners in the draft that we felt best about as far as a guy that really lowers his pads and has contact balance that can really push through open-field contact and keeps his feet and keeps gaining additional yards."
Yet his skill set goes beyond just short-yardage. Carey carried a heavy load for the Wildcats in college, toting the rock 652 times the past two years combined. He's shown the ability to be a workhorse, which has value in both the short- and long-term.
For this season, and possibly next, Carey can spell Forte for full series', giving the older star the in-game rest he's going to need to stay healthy. For 2016 and beyond, Carey's experience as an every-down, high-carry runner should allow him to easily take over the No. 1 role.
His mileage the past two years is concerning but over the next two years he'll get a relative break as a backup and won't have to again assume 20-30 carries until 2016. In that way, his touch count should balance out.
In addition, Carey has decent hands (77 catches for 679 yards and 4 touchdowns the last three years) and is good in pass protection. He can stay on the field on third down, adding value as a blocker and as a weapon out of the backfield.
Finally, Carey comes from the Arizona spread system run by Rich Rodriguez, which is fairly similar to a lot of Marc Trestman's offensive sets.
"[Rodriguez] prepared me for being a smart running back," said Carey. "I do have a lot of talent but what makes me is being in the film room being smart and learning and knowing football. So Rich Rod is a smart offensive schemer; he knows how to break down defenses and that's one thing I rubbed off from him. And [the] Chicago Bears go 78 percent spread and shotgun, so I feel like I translate to that perfect. That's exactly why I think they picked me."
In 2014, expect Carey to see roughly 10 touches per game. He'll likely come on the field for at least a couple of series per game and will see spot duty in short-yardage and third-down situations. It's a luxury the Bears haven't had in years, as none of the recent backup running backs have proved capable of every-down duty.
"I just watched him carrying the football and catching the football and the tenacity, just the violent way and the quickness with which he runs with the football," Trestman said. "Everyone is talking about his speed but he plays fast. He's tough to take down. His pads are down. He's short but he's strong. He just fits in. He can run inside and outside. He can catch the ball. He's got good hands. And he's going to be a very willing, tough, physical blocker when [running backs coach] Skip [Peete] gets his hands on him and starts working with him. We don't see that to be an issue. And we're looking for a three-down backup to back up Matt and we feel very good about Ka'Deem."
This one-two punch of Carey and Forte should payoff right away. It will keep Forte fresh and give opposing defenses more for which to prepare. Two-back systems are very common in the NFL and can be very successful when executed properly.
It's something of which Trestman is fully aware. During his last stint as an NFL offensive coordinator in Oakland in the early 2000s, he utilized Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatley in a thunder-and-lightning backfield that helped the Raiders earn a trip to the 2002 Super Bowl.
There's no reason Forte and Carey can't equal the success of Garner and Wheatley. In fact, if Carey emerges as the player many believe he'll be, Chicago could boast the top running back duo in the league the next two years.
That type of danger in the backfield, of which opposing defenses will surely be cognizant on every play, will open up the passing game considerably.
When it's all said and done, Carey could go down as the best pick in this year's draft and those dividends should pay off immediately.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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.