Grading Da Bears 2011-2012: Running Backs

Zack PearsonCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears in action against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum on November 27, 2011 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Another key injury this season came at the running back position for the Chicago Bears. Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte sprained his MCL in a Week 13 loss against the Chiefs.

He never returned this season and that all but ended the Chicago Bears' season.

Forte was having another great year and with his contract up, he was expecting to sign a contract extension with the Bears. That never happened. From the looks of it, the Bears are content on using the franchise tag on Forte.

Forte has proven his worth. He lead the Bears in yards from scrimmage and was top five in the NFL in that same category before he was hurt.

Forte started off the season strong and although the Bears were struggling at 1-3, Forte was a bright spot in the offense. Forte was not only a threat in the rushing game, but he was Cutler's top target for most of the season.

With Forte playing well and the Bears' offense starting to click after a Week 6 win over the Vikings, the Bears were on the rise and preparing for a potential playoff run.

Then it all went downhill.

As the Bears lost five of their last six games, they also used three different running backs during that stretch. Forte's shoes were going to be hard to fill, and it showed during that five-game losing stretch.

Marion Barber took over as the starting running back, and he was serviceable at times. He wasn’t a horrible backup, but one key mistake could have cost the Bears their season. Against Denver, the Bears held a late lead. As they tried to run the clock down, Barber made a mental mistake and ran out of bounds.

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18:  Kahlil Bell #32 of the Chicago Bears celebrates a touchdown catch with Marion Barber #24 against the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field on December18, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Seahawks defeated the Bears 38-14.(Photo by Jo
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

You know the rest of the story—it was Tebow Time.

Khalil Bell became the starter the following week against Seattle as Barber suffered an injury. The Bears resorted to Bell and Armando Allen as their backups.

Bell had some pretty good games down the stretch and was a bright spot for the Bears. He’s given himself a chance to backup Matt Forte next season.

It’s hard to imagine how far this Bears team could have gone this season barring the injuries they had. One thing is for certain, many Bears fans want to see Matt Forte signed for the long term.

With the nucleus of Forte and Cutler, it gives the Bears something to build around for the future. It’s just up to the Bears to get it done.

Final Grade:  B-

Reason for the Grade: Forte had an outstanding season. His injury was a key loss for the Bears, who were on their way to the playoffs. Forte earns an A- himself. Barber and Bell were good backups and at least were able to give the Bears some kind of hope during the season.