Projected starter: Matt Forte
A second-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft out of Tulane, Forte was a revelation as a rookie and looked to be the next great running back in the Windy City. But if you mix one part ineffective offensive line with one part nagging injury, you get a sophomore slump coupled with a barrage of questions from fans and media alike wondering if you were ever that good in the first place. The 6-2, 216-pounder is still entrenched atop the depth chart, but don't look for him to be guaranteed 20-25 touches every game, as has been the case ever since he first had that orange C put on his helmet.
Projected backups: Chester Taylor, Garrett Wolfe, Kahlil Bell
One of the more accomplished second-string ball carriers in recent history, the Bears managed to steal Taylor away from the division-rival Vikings and plan to work him into the mix offensively. Unlike Kevin Jones, who was a workhorse earlier in his career but could never stay healthy once he came to Chicago, Taylor has relatively low mileage for a running back north of 30 years old and appears to be a perfect fit in Mike Martz's inventive scheme. As for Wolfe and Bell, both of them could make the 53-man roster because Wolfe is a gifted special teamer and Bell averaged 5.5 yards per attempt in limited opportunities last season.
A top-five pick in fantasy drafts from coast to coast this past year, Forte disappointed to the tune of 258 carries for 929 yards (3.6 yards per carry) and just four touchdowns. Give him credit for remaining effective in the passing game, catching 57 passes out of the backfield for another 471 yards, but he topped the century mark on the ground only twice in 16 games and also lost three fumbles. After being subjected to way too much punishment as a rookie in 2008, Forte battled a hamstring injury the following offseason, sprained a knee in Week 3 at Seattle and ended up getting that same knee scoped when the schedule finally drew to a close.
While Forte is poised for a bounce-back campaign and looked to have a little more spring in his step in minicamp and OTAs, he is going to have to share the load with Taylor to some degree and may not get as many touches as he would like. Forte knows what seven-time Pro Bowler Marshall Faulk did in Martz's offense, including an amazing three-year stretch from 1999-2001 when he averaged 2,255 total yards from scrimmage, although Bears fans would be wise to keep their expectations in check. Until Forte starts to become more productive in short-yardage and goal-line situations, which has been a problem for him since Day 1, Chicago's fate will continue to lean too heavily on the right arm of Jay Cutler.
RB Matt Forte
I'd much rather have ...
... Joseph Addai in Indianapolis. Addai didn't exactly tear it up this past season, rushing for 828 yards and reeling in another 336 yards worth of passes, not to mention the fact that he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry and his receptions went for just 6.6 yards a pop. However, he still found paydirt 13 times, 10 on the ground and three more through the air, and provided just enough of a threat in the backfield to keep defenses honest and let Peyton Manning and Co. do their thing. Like Forte, Addai isn't going to break a lot of big plays, but he keeps the chains moving and has a nose for the end zone.
But he's better than ...
Cedric Benson in Cincinnati. Chicago's former No. 4-overall pick finally lived up to his draft status in 2009, rushing for 1,251 yards in 13 games and generating some MVP talk before yet another injury sidelined him in November. Away from the big-market microscope, Benson flourished behind a bruising offensive line, including a 37-carry, 189-yard effort against the Bears in Week 7 that saw him get some revenge on his former employer. But the Bengals would be foolish to commit to Benson for the long term, as Forte has a wider array of skills, is more of a team player and doesn't know the way to the Travis County Jail by heart.
Confidence-o-Meter: 6.8 *
Forte is much more of a Terrell Davis one-cut-and-go runner than a Barry Sanders juke-and-jive machine, and because Martz's offense uses more zone blocking than Ron Turner's largely man-on-man system, Chicago's featured back should make the adjustment just fine. Catching the ball won't be a problem, as Martz throws the ball to his backs quite often and Forte has sure hands as a receiver, but he needs to do a better job holding on to it after dealing with some fumble-itis in 2009. Remember that Martz has no loyalty to Forte, so if he can go with journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan at QB in San Francisco over No. 1 pick Alex Smith, Taylor would be wise to keep his helmet on at all times.
* Much like Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation" came up with a scientifically perfect 10-point scale for human beauty, JC has done the same with confidence in running backs. 10.0 is Walter Payton on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line.
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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.