According to most football fans, Greg Cosell of NFL Films has a dream job: he does nothing all day except break down tape from every game all season long.
Bear Report consulted with Cosell at the 2007 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, as the Bears were preparing to jettison leading rusher Thomas Jones in favor of '05 first-round draft pick Cedric Benson at tailback. Cosell was never a believer in Benson's ability to be an every-down option on Sunday, and he proved to be right because the former Texas Longhorn flopped in his lone season as the starter in Chicago. The Midway Monsters cut bait with Benson before 2008 following a pair of off-the-field incidents, but ultimately it was his poor on-the-field performance that led to his unceremonious exit from the Windy City.
Enter Matt Forte, a second-rounder from Tulane this past April who went on to set a franchise record with 1,238 yards rushing, and Cosell thinks he's a keeper.
"I think Matt Forte to me has the necessary attribute to be a quality NFL back, and it's lateral agility," Cosell said Wednesday at the Tampa Convention Center. "See, in the NFL, it's not about vertical explosiveness. There are very few runs where guys just hit a hole, hit a seam untouched, and run fast in a straight line. Forte's not explosive, and therefore I don't think he'll ever be one of the truly elite backs. But I think you can sustain an offense with Matt Forte because he has excellent feet in a short area. He's got very good lateral agility and quickness."
While Cosell stopped short of calling Forte an eventual Hall of Famer, he believes the former Green Wave has most of the elements necessary to succeed for the long term and should get better down the road.
"I wouldn't call him laterally explosive," he said, "but he's quick enough to get in and out of the hole. And he's a big man, and I think as he plays more, he'll become a little more powerful. I think that's what he needs to work on now. He needs to move the pile a little more because, obviously, in the NFL there's a lot more bodies more quickly than there are in college."
According to Cosell, it's the running back that makes the offensive line and not the other way around – the switch from Benson to Forte improved the Bears up front.
"I think his feet are quick enough where he can be a nice feature back," he said.
On the other side of the ball, six-time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher has not received an invitation to Hawaii two seasons running and isn't making near the amount of plays he did earlier in his career. Urlacher professes that he's fully healthy after dealing with back and neck problems most of '07, but he has been lapped by Lance Briggs as the best linebacker on the team. And after somehow getting a contract extension from the organization this past summer despite four years left on his deal, he's still on the books through 2012.
It was unadulterated speed that made Mr. Old Spice such a special athlete in the middle, but those wheels simply do not appear to be there these days.
"What I think the film shows is he's not as explosive a player as he was just in terms of quick change of direction," said Cosell. "Because what made Urlacher phenomenal, Urlacher had the 'wow' element to him in his prime where'd you see him stick his foot in the ground and then run and chase people down. Sideline to sideline, he'd be there in a heartbeat. On film, he doesn't quite have that lateral explosiveness and speed anymore."
Cosell doesn't feel the Bears need to replace Urlacher any time soon, but it may be time to dial down expectations for someone who used to be one of the league's premier playmakers.
"He's not a bad player," he said. "It's not as if he's a stiff and you've got to get him off the field. But that level that he was at where he just jumped off the film – where you went, 'Oh my god, look at Brian Urlacher move' – you don't quite see that at that level anymore."
A lot of experts thought Baltimore's Ray Lewis was done as a difference maker yet he just enjoyed a sensational campaign for the upstart Ravens, so does Cosell envision Urlacher delivering a similar resurrection?
"That's a really tough question," he said. "I can't answer that, and I'm not copping out. I can't answer that. There's no way to know if Urlacher can get back to that level of explosiveness."
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.
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