2008 was a great year for good old-fashion rushing in the NFL. There was a burner in Atlanta and wildcats in Miami, smashing and dashing in Tennessee and double trouble in Carolina. There was a fullback in Baltimore who rushed for nearly a thousand yards.
Adrian Peterson, Kevin Jones, and Garrett Wolfe combined for 278 yards on 69 carries this past season. Not one of them found the end zone on an offensive down.
Surprisingly, fullback Jason McKie received the goal line carries early in the season. His newfound position was short-lived; after scoring a touchdown in both Week One and Week Two, he relinquished his red zone duties to Forte.
The Bears used to pride themselves as a team that “comes off the bus running.” But Matt Forte seems to be the only guy running off of that bus.
While Forte was a terrific asset to the offense during his rookie campaign, his workload was a bit much. When he was finally spelled for a significant period of time during several games late in the season, the offense could not run the ball. They could barely move the ball. They looked lost.
The Bears have come to rely on Forte to spark their offense. Now they need to learn how to keep him fresh without imploding during his absence.
When Forte missed a quarter of play against New Orleans with a minor injury, the offense struggled immensely. Imagine what would have happened if he had to sit out a game or two.
Cedric Benson would not have walked into Lucas Oil Stadium in September as a starter, simply because Matt Forte can run, catch, and block circles around him. And while Benson’s recent claims of being able to rush for 1,500 to 1,800 yards in Forte’s place are laughable, he was one cocktail away from being the Bears’ change of pace back this past season, a role he flourished in for the second half of their 2006 Super Bowl run.
Benson was a nice compliment to Thomas Jones because of their contrast in style. He could have been a nice compliment to Forte as well. But just as with Jones, the two likely would not have been able to coexist.
So, where can the Bears look to spell their new feature back? Adrian Peterson has the experience, but lacks consistency. Garrett Wolfe is an untapped resource, but won’t be able to run between the tackles very well. Both contribute heavily on special teams and may not be able to carry an additional workload. Jason McKie is best served as a lead blocker rather than a ball carrier, which leaves Kevin Jones, whose contract is about to expire.
Perhaps the solution lies in the free agency. Rushers such as J.J. Arrington and LaMont Jordan may be hitting the market, and could come at a reasonable cost. Or, perhaps the Bears could look for a serviceable running back late in Day Two of the draft. Or maybe they buckle down and re-commit to Kevin Jones.
Adding a running back to the roster isn’t a glaring offseason need, but it is one that needs plenty of consideration. Running backs in the NFL suffer a lot of wear and tear, and the Bears need somebody to consistently take 5-10 carries a game and fill in on some third down pass blocking. Matt Forte can be the feature back in Chicago for years to come, but his success is going to be short-lived if he is expected to carry the backfield by himself.