No Controversy in Chicago Backfield

Lake Forest - Although Thomas Jones and Anthony Thomas split carries evenly against the Vikings, there is no running back controversy on the Bears.

Coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Terry Shea have both made sure of that.

"We don't have a two-back rotation or anything like that," Smith said. "There's a starter (Jones), and there's a guy who's backing him up (Thomas) who we would like to get plays. It will continue like this."

A much bigger issue to Smith is stopping running back Fred Taylor, the offensive centerpiece of the Jacksonville Jaguars, this week's opponent at All-Tel Stadium. The seven-year veteran needs 20 rushing yards against the Bears for his fifth 1,000-yard season, including last year's 1,572-yard effort.

Taylor was selected ninth overall by the Jaguars in 1998, four picks after the Bears chose running back Curtis Enis. Smith knew very well how talented Taylor was long before that fateful day.

"I recruited him when I was a secondary coach at Tennessee (1993-94), way back then," Smith said. "So I've seen him a lot of years, seen him perform at a high level. I've always thought that he was one of the best running backs in the league when he was healthy. He's healthy right now, and I think he's an outstanding football player."

Taylor, who chose Florida over Tennessee, struggled for 76 yards on 27 carries last week against the Steelers' top-ranked defense, but he went over 100 yards in three of his previous four games.

The Bears have struggled much of the season to stop the run, and they rank 27th in rushing yards allowed after permitting 146 against the Vikings. That was the seventh time the Bears have allowed more than 135 rushing yards in a game this season. The NFL average is 116.

"We will have our hands full," Smith said, "but we have some good defensive players, too, and they're excited about the challenge of playing guys like that."

Both Bears backs carried the ball 15 times last Sunday, and neither was particularly effective, with Jones picking up 49 yards and Thomas adding 55. Jones suffered a shoulder stinger on his first carry but was back on the next possession. With 2:06 left in the third quarter, Thomas had just 1 carry, but he ran the ball on 14 of the Bears' next 20 plays until Jones re-entered for the final series.

That marked the first time that Thomas had gotten significant playing time when Jones had been available for an entire game. In eight previous games that Jones started and finished, Thomas carried a total of just 19 times for 48 yards. When Jones was injured on the first play of the 49ers game and missed the next two starts, Thomas carried 82 times for 280 yards.

But in the two games since Jones returned, Thomas had three carries and no yards.

"We went into (Sunday's) game more focused on the fact that we'd like to insert Anthony into the routine of the game," Shea said. "Last week against Dallas was probably the biggest nightmare of my coaching career."

The Bears had 140 total yards against the Cowboys. Thomas rushed 14 times for 45 yards, and Thomas carried three times for zero yards.

"This week, we were really committed to letting Anthony play and letting him play with some rotation, some rhythm," Shea said. "Not just put him in for three plays and say, 'OK, that's your one series.' "

The key was that the Bears were able to control the ball for 30 minutes and 59 seconds, their fourth-longest possession time of the season, and they ran 70 plays, matching their season high from back on opening day.

"We've always said our ideal situation is to play both guys," Smith said. "It really kind of worked out that way (Sunday). But still there's a starter and there's a guy that we would like to get plays based on what he has done."

Smith said he would not be inclined to play both backs early in games and go with whoever appeared to be hot.

"We're going to go with our starter," he said, "and we're going to try to get our backups in place."

"We definitely have a starting tailback, and that's Thomas Jones," Shea said. "I would love to see Anthony rotate in, and we'll continue to do that."

But, unless the Bears are able to maintain control of the ball as well as they did against the Vikings, there won't be enough carries to keep two backs happy.

Bear Report Top Stories