Fresh Legs Mean More than Fresh Style
Forte finished seventh in the NFL with 1,238 yards rushing and led all backs with 63 receptions, but he only averaged 3.3 yards per attempt in December and didn't break a run longer than 28 yards the last five games of the year. He slowed down considerably after spraining a toe in Week 15 against the Saints, and nobody – not Kevin Jones, not Adrian Peterson, and not Garrett Wolfe – stepped up to take some of the load off Forte's young shoulders. The Bears must find a secondary ball carrier for 2009 in order to preserve Forte for the long haul.
Just ask Warrick Dunn of the Buccaneers, the 12-year veteran running back out of Florida State who has enjoyed tremendous success both starting and coming off the bench on Sunday.
Dunn believes fresh legs are a necessity at running back. (Chris O'Meara/AP Images)
"I think every team now is going to the two-back system," Dunn told me while making the rounds at Radio Row in the Tampa Convention Center. "You want guys to be able to be fresh at the right time of year. To get a million carries, I just think it's tough for guys to do that today."
Forte is a good-sized tailback at 6-2 and 216 pounds, but Dunn believes having a pair of runners pushing each other to be better is more important than going out of your way to find a No. 2 that's a perfect change-of-pace to the No. 1.
"It's just a fresh set of legs," he said. "You don't need a pounder and a guy who's a scatback. That doesn't work all the time, so you just want a guy who can come in and pick up the pieces."
Few backs know how to pick up the pieces better than Dunn, who has rushed for 10,967 career yards – 19th most in league history – on a 5-9, 180-pound frame.
Rice Vows to Make a Comeback Next Year
According to Scout.com Senior NFL Reporter Adam Caplan, Mount Carmel High School graduate and former Illinois All-American Simeon Rice is planning to suit up again on Sunday. The three-time Pro Bowler last played in 2007, splitting his time in Denver and Indianapolis while dealing with a troublesome shoulder injury – he compiled just one sack in eight games. But in his prime, Rice was one of the more feared pass rushers in the league and registered double-digit sacks in five straight seasons with the Buccaneers.
Bears front man Lovie Smith knows Rice well from his time as the linebackers coach in Tampa Bay, so there is familiarity on both sides.
Rice didn't get a sack for Denver in six games in 2007. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Monsters of the Midway registered just 28 sacks this past year, and only 12 of them came from the defensive end position. Alex Brown played his heart out but isn't a sack specialist, Adewale Ogunleye had a disappointing 2008 after a strong '07, and Mark Anderson hasn't made many plays since a 12-sack rookie campaign back in 2006. Seventh-round pick Ervin Baldwin was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster midseason in order to keep him in Chicago, but he never dressed once on game day.
It remains to be seen how much of a factor Rice could be after a year away from the game, especially since he'll turn 35 years old in February. But the Windy City native wouldn't come with a hefty price tag, and perhaps he'll be sentimental toward his hometown Bears if he is indeed serious about making a comeback. The fact that he won't have to learn a new defensive scheme might also be comforting.
Assuming his shoulder is healthy, Caplan believes Rice can handle 20-25 snaps per game off the bench.
Mendenhall Thought About Being a Bear
But Jerry Angelo passed on the Niles West High School graduate at 14th overall in the first round and instead selected Matt Forte in Round 2. That decision turned out to be a good one, as Forte set a franchise rookie record with 1,238 yards rushing and single-handedly made the Chicago running game respectable this past year. Mendenhall, who ended up being drafted 23rd overall by eventual AFC champion Pittsburgh, compiled just 58 yards on 19 carries in four ballgames backing up Willie Parker before getting shelved on injured reserve with a bum shoulder.
Mendenhall knows he has a great situation with the Steelers, but he couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like to play for his hometown Bears.
Mendenhall to this day remains a fan of his hometown Bears. (Aaron Harris/AP Images)
"Growing up in Chicago and being a Bears fan, it would have been cool to be there," Mendenhall told me Tuesday at the Steelers' Media Day session. "But everything happens for a reason, and I'm here in Pittsburgh and I'm enjoying it."
That's nice and all, but did he ever watch what Forte was doing in the Windy City as a first-year player and think to himself, That could have been me?
"Not really," said Mendenhall. "I really believe everything happens for a reason. Being in Pittsburgh, it feels like this is where I'm supposed to be. But at the same time, I'm a friend of Matt's and I'm very proud of what he's been able to do."
While Mendenhall will be in the Steel City for the foreseeable future, he is quite appreciative of the success his fellow '08 draftee is having back home.
"I'm still a Bears fan," he admitted, "so I think it's cool to see what he's been doing out there."
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.