Fragility is a word that NFL general managers hate to hear.
Whether it’s a college player who drops multiple picks because of his injury history, or a veteran who drops from his prime before his 30th birthday, GM’s like the comfort of players who can stay on the active roster and have long-term careers.
In Chicago, it feels like GM Jerry Angelo has at least one position that he feels comfortable with: the running back.
And with second-year RB Matt Forte coming off a great rookie campaign, who would blame him?
The only problem with Forte’s season last year has nothing to do with the player himself. Instead, it lies with the offensive coordinator Ron Turner’s play calling.
Forte’s 379 touches last season is the most ever by a Bears’ rookie.
With the continuous theme of careers ending early in the NFL, this has to be something that the coaches in Chicago will monitor very closely.
In the last few years many of the games' top running backs have shown a severe decline once they reach their early-30’s, most notably LaDainian Tomlinson.
From 2001-07, Tomlinson was known as one of the best running backs (if not THE best) in the league. In those seven seasons, he averaged 1,521 yards and 14 touchdowns a season, with career bests of 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2006, and that was just his rushing numbers.
In all, Tomlinson averaged 2,003 all-purpose yards, and 18 touchdowns (not including passing TD’s) in that seven-season period.
However, at the ripe age of 29, Tomlinson showed a decline last season as he ran for just 1,110 yards and 11 touchdowns, both numbers well below his career average.
So why is it that L.T. is already fading?
Many experts pointed to his toe injury that plagued him prior to the season, and which kept him out of pre-season games (which Tomlinson rarely participated in anyways).
However, the amount of touches he had has to be duly noted.
From 2001-07, Tomlinson averaged 403 touches per year (338 rushing, 65 receiving), tops in the NFL in that seven-season span.
With the NFL getting bigger, stronger, and faster, the aging human body just can’t deal with that kind of wear and tear.
This is starting to become more prevalent in the league as more teams are beginning to implicate a running back-by-committee system in their offense.
With this being said, do the Bears’ have that kind of flexibility with their backup running backs? The answer is maybe.
Chicago is bringing back injury-prone running back Kevin Jones for a second year to backup Forte, but he was hardly used last season, indicative of his 36 total touches throughout the year.
Jones has shown promise at times in his career, and had a couple of good runs last season, but personnel never gave him a chance to really get going.
The Bears also have RB’s Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe, but they were able to match Jones’ output for touches between the two of them.
So, if the personnel in Chicago wants Matt Forte to continue to have success in the running game for years to come, they have to look at getting more touches from the three backup running backs.
It’s hard to waste Forte’s talent by not keeping him on the field, but it will ensure a longer, healthier career for the young running back.