The Bears trade for Jay Cutler has made this year the most anticipated season in the organization's recent history. Although having a top quarterback under center will make a big difference in the Bears' passing game, much of the team's success this year will fall upon the shoulders of second year running back Matt Forté.
The 24-year-old from Slidell, Louisiana is coming off last season where he led all rookies in total yards from scrimmage, as well as breaking the Bears' team record for yards from scrimmage by a rookie. Gale Sayers had held that record for 43 years.
If Forté can put up the same kind of numbers both rushing and receiving as he did last year it will make Jay Cutler's life a lot easier to say the least.
In the preseason, the former Tulane running back scored three touchdowns in the two games he played in.
A 32 yard scamper against the New York Giants displayed his big play capabilities. Forté took the hand off from Cutler to the left, recognized a Giant defender had over-pursued exposing a hole in the defense, and instantly hit the crease at full speed leaving the defense helpless, unable to get a hand on him. The touchdown run was a great example of the intelligence with which Forté plays the game.
Against Jay Cutler's old team, the Denver Broncos, Forté showed his receiving attributes catching a 6 yard touchdown out of the backfield. Under pressure Cutler scrambled away from a charging defender, but was able to sling the ball right to where Forté was curling to the goal line tightly covered.
Before the disaster that was Cedric Benson, the Bears had three years of success with Thomas Jones in the backfield, but decided to let him go after Chicago's 2006 Super Bowl run. Jones went on to rush for over 1000 yards the next two years with the New York Jets.
However, Forté offers a skill set different from the "find the hole and run hard style" of Thomas Jones. Forté can make guys miss, catch the ball, see the field, and break tackles. Forté doesn't have the cutting ability of a Barry Sanders or LaDainian Tomlinson, but has a keen sense of the right moment to change direction.
A second round draft pick in 2008, Forté went much later in the draft likely because he sat out most of his entire junior year with an injury and he played at a small school, Tulane. Forté spent four years in college and graduated with a degree in Finance (Not exactly a B.A. in Basket-Weaving).
In high school he was a honor student at Slidell High School. A Cajun man at heart who loves fishing with his Dad and eating his Mother's gumbo, Forté, like Walter Payton, is the type of player that teammates love playing with: confident yet unassuming.
It's amazing that the Bears got a guy with their second round draft pick in 2008 who's a quality person with the potential to be one of the premier running backs in the NFL. He has the makings of becoming the best all-around back since the days of "Sweetness" and the '85 Bears. Most of the limelight will fall on Cutler this year, but the soft spoken Matt Forté could truly be the pivotal component to the Bears '09 season.