Even though they got a dynamite debut season from Matt Forte, the Monsters of the Midway were not nearly as good on the ground as they needed to be in 2008.
A second-round draft choice out of Tulane, the former Green Wave rushed for 1,238 yards and led all backs in the NFL with 63 receptions for 477 more yards – he scored 12 total touchdowns, eight on the ground and four through the air. However, the running game as a whole was not particularly impressive, finishing 24th in the league at 104.6 yards per game and tied for 26th at 3.9 yards per carry. While Forte proved to be the workhorse and single-handedly carried the offense at times, the Midway Monsters got next to nothing out of their triumvirate of backups: Kevin Jones, Adrian Peterson, and Garrett Wolfe.
Head coach Lovie Smith continually says that his team gets off the bus running the football, but the numbers beg to differ in each of the last two campaigns.
Reasons to be Optimistic
Forte looks to be the next great back in Chicago and could go as high as No. 2 overall in your upcoming fantasy football draft.
Quite simply, there is nothing that Forte can't do offensively, as he is strong enough to bang between the tackles, fast enough to break away from the secondary, runs routes as well as some receivers, catches the ball with sticky-soft hands, and helps protect his quarterback with adequate blocking in the backfield. But if this running game is going to get back to top-10 status, then there needs to be a secondary option capable of moving the chains and giving Forte an opportunity to rest once in a while. Fortunately, Jones is much healthier now than he was at this time a year ago, and he re-signed with the club in the offseason in part because the coaching staff assured him he'd have a bigger role in 2009 – Forte took too much punishment last year.
Jones should be healthier than he was in 2008.
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The offensive line appears to be improved from a year ago as well, highlighted by future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace taking over for journeyman John St. Clair at left tackle and last year's first-round choice, Chris Williams, finally stepping into the starting lineup at right tackle.
Causes for Concern
Forte limped off the practice field with a minor injury during the offseason program, which only showed how desperate this team could be at tailback if they lose him for any significant period of time.
Jones may have been a first-rounder of the NFC North rival Lions once upon a time, but he has a lengthy list of injuries himself and hasn't been healthy enough to crack the 1,000-yard plateau since he was a rookie way back in 2004. Peterson and Wolfe justify their roster spots by being standouts on special teams, although neither one of them has even been very impressive operating out of the backfield – Peterson has no wiggle, Wolfe is simply too small. And while fullback Jason McKie is a reliable safety valve in the passing game, he's not a good enough runner to pick up a first down himself in short-yardage situations.
The presence of Jay Cutler under center will help keep that eighth defender out of the box, but this offense has always used the running game to open up the passing game and not the other way around.
While Forte is going to grab the headlines, Jones is one of the most important pieces of Chicago's puzzle this year. If he can be productive with six to eight touches per game, this team should benefit on both sides of the ball. The offense will stay on the field, the defense can get a little more rest, and Forte keeps some gas in the tank for the fourth quarter – that's Bears football at its finest.
Should the Forte-and-Jones combination get that yards-per-carry average up to the 4.2 or 4.3 range, Cutler is going to have a lot of success in the Windy City.
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.