Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte has a bum knee. The injury occured in Sunday's contest against the Minnesota Vikings, knocking him out of the second half of the game.
The Bears would not comment on the extent of the injury, only to say that it won't requre surgery and that Forte won't miss the entire season. But FOX's Jay Glazer, one of John Fox's close friends, reported it's an MCL injury that will likely keep him out at least a couple of weeks.
This is a tough blow for Chicago's offense, which has leaned heavily on Forte this year. His 161 total touches are second in the NFL only to the Falcons' Devonta Freeman (192), while Forte ranks 8th in the league in rushing yards (548) and 5th in yards from scrimmage (767).
“I wouldn’t trade him for anybody else," Jay Cutler said last week. "I know he’s a three-down back. He does so much protection-wise. He does so much in the passing game. You can line him up in all different scenarios for us, all different sets. He gets the job done. He’s kind of a security blanket for us.”
With the knee injury, that security blanket has been ripped from the clutches of the offense, and coordinator Adam Gase in particular.
"He’s playing at an elite level," Gase said leading up the Vikings game. "I think he was leading the league in rushing there for a minute. We’ll see what happens in this next 10 games, but I’m pretty sure people know we’re going to try to get him the ball."
Under Gase, Forte was on pace for a career high in single-season touches. Through the first six weeks of the year, he carried the ball no fewer than 15 times in any contest, and had four games of 20 or more carries.
In a car built by Gase, Forte is the V8 Hemi engine that often has to tow behind him the entire offense.
"His ability, whether it be in the run game, passing game, pass protection - it’s rare to find a guy that can do everything," said Gase. "I think his ability to see the holes that he’s seeing—it could be the smallest crease, and he hits it. It seems like we’re always efficient in the running game. He seems to find the right spot to hit.”
Even with Forte playing at an elite level, the Bears still rank just 27th in total offense and 16th in rushing yards per game. Now the unit loses its best player, which doesn't bode well for a 2-5 team struggling to put points on the board - the Bears rank 27th in points per game.
Yet, in reality, Forte's injury is a good thing.
The Bears are 2-5 overall and 0-3 in the division. It's a lost season. For a first-year coaching staff, wins and losses this year aren't nearly as important as development and evaluation in what is obviously the first year of a full-blown rebuild.
Forte is great but he's in the last year of his contract and, at 30 years old, is unlikely to return. The team knows what they have in Forte; the same can't be said for rookie Jeremy Langford.
The club's fourth-round pick, Langford was a cornerback and wide reciever his first two years at Michigan State. He started at running back his junior and senior seasons, tallying 2,944 rushing yards and 40 TDs the past two years combined. He also showed well as a receiver and in pass protection. His all-around game was the reason the Bears drafted Langford, as they believe he can be the club's long-term workhorse ball carrier when Forte ultimately departs after this season.
"I like his football character," Fox said. "[The game] is not too big for him. He’s very willing. So his mindset is to learn. I think Stan Drayton, his position coach, has done a tremendous job with him. And a lot of it is he’s very receptive. I call it football character. He picks things up very well for a young player.”
Despite all that, Langford is still an unknown commodity and would have remained that way had Forte stayed healthy all season. Now, with Forte on a short hiatus, the Bears can find out exactly what they have in Langford.
“In the NFL the game’s different than college football, particularly in the passing game," said Fox. "They’re not just handing off to him. The protection element, routes, sometimes some of the things you see are a little bit more exotic. So he’s adapted to that very well as a rookie coming in from college to the NFL.”
It was reported yesterday the Bears might sign free-agent running back Montee Ball, who played under Fox in Denver. Yet even if they do bring in a veteran, it'll be nothing more than a depth move.
While Forte is out, this will be Langford's show. The Bears need to find out of he can handle 50-plus snaps each game playing all three phases: running the ball, catching the ball and pass protection. The best way to do that is to let him take over for Forte fully the next few weeks. By the end of this short run, there should be no doubt about Langford's ability to be the starter in 2016 and beyond.
And if he's as good as most believe, inlcuding myself, Bears fans worried about Forte's inevitable departure will rest easier knowing a young, capable, every-down back is waiting in the wings.