Year in Review: Running Backs

The Chicago Bears have a great tradition of terrific running backs, and Matt Forte looks like he's ready to carry that torch. Nevertheless, the ground game as a whole was just average and is in need of a big boost. Bear Report takes a look back at 2008 for the RBs while also looking ahead to 2009.

2008 Review
After hastily trading away Thomas Jones before the 2007 season and dealing with the colossal disappointment that was first-round bust Cedric Benson, the Bears look to have hit a home run with Matt Forte.


RB Adrian Peterson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Selected in the second round of this past April's NFL Draft, it was easy to overlook the former Tulane Green Wave considering big names like Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, and Rashard Mendenhall all declared after their junior season. But it was Forte, along with fellow overachiever Steve Slaton of the Texans, that ended up taking the league by storm as a first-year player and led the Bears in both rushing and receiving. He slowed down to some degree the last month or so after dealing with a painful toe injury, but the youngster ran tough between the tackles, showed a little burst in the open field, and did it all with a refreshingly humble approach to the game.

Although it was satisfying to see Forte develop into an instant star, the coaching staff curiously never made any sort of commitment to Kevin Jones, Adrian Peterson, or Garrett Wolfe as a complement and may have contributed to Forte's wear and tear down the stretch.

Inside the Numbers
Forte set a franchise record with 1,238 yards rushing and also led all NFL running backs with 63 receptions, but he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and only cracked the century mark on the ground in three of 16 games. Don't be fooled by Forte's success into thinking that the Bears had a great running attack this season, as they were ranked 24th in the league at 104.6 yards per game and tied for 26th at 3.9 yards per attempt. And a team that supposedly "gets off the bus running the football" got pass-happy at times, so offensive coordinator Ron Turner will have to explain why his play-calling had the Bears just 15th with 27.1 rushing attempts per game.

Thumbs Up
Forte deserves all the credit he can get for single-handedly making the offense better than it ever was with Benson, even when he didn't have the ball in his hands since he was a willing and capable blocker. Peterson continues to be a reliable player both offensively and on special teams, although his 5.0 yards-per-carry average is inflated because of a few garbage-time gallops. While Wolfe still hasn't found a role in the offense two years into his career, he's turned himself into a demon on the coverage units and, at just 5-7 and 186 pounds, made a ton of tackles on punts and kickoffs.

Thumbs Down
Way too often, Turner forgot about Forte in the second half and made too much of an effort to open things up with the passing game, even when the ground attack was having success. Jones looked to be a smart addition in free agency as a crutch in case Forte bombed out in his first year, but he only got 21 carries the rest of the way after 13 in the season-opening upset at Indianapolis and was even inactive for a handful of games. While fullback Jason McKie is an adequate lead blocker and still catches the ball confidently as a safety valve, he didn't do well as a ball carrier in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

2009 Preview
If the Monsters of the Midway got another 1,200-plus yards, 60-plus receptions, and a dozen or so touchdowns from Forte in his sophomore campaign, the heads at Halas Hall would be very happy.


FB Jason McKie
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

But instead of asking the soft-spoken Cajun to step it up and enter 1,500-yard territory, it would be much wiser to commit to a secondary option in the backfield that can contribute with 10-12 touches per contest. Jones is likely to sign elsewhere since he only came to Chicago on a one-year deal after shredding his knee with Detroit in 2007, Peterson is what he is at this point, and Wolfe never seems to get a chance to be the Darren Sproles-type change of pace many Bears backers believe he can be. It appears to be another strong class of tailbacks in this April's draft, meaning a Day-2 selection might be the way to go.

Sproles himself, as a matter of fact, is due to become an unrestricted free agent and would be a tremendous pick-up, plus J.J. Arrington, who is also ready to test the free-agent waters, has done some good things this season after struggling his first few years in the league.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


Bear Report Top Stories