Bears position outlook: Running backs

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
8:00
AM ET
2014 free agents: None.

Forte
Forte
The good: Matt Forte earned his second Pro Bowl berth after finishing the season ranked No. 2 in the NFL with 1,339 rushing yards, third in yards from scrimmage (1,933), third in first downs (97), fourth in receiving yardage by running backs (594) and tied for No. 6 in rushing touchdowns (nine). The rushing yardage and yards from scrimmage were career bests for Forte. In all, Forte ranked in the top 10 in eight statistical categories, while also serving as a crucial component of the protection schemes. Forte’s primary backup, Michael Bush, finished second on the team in rushing with 197 yards.

Bush
Bush
The bad: As well as Forte played in 2013, he can’t do it all by himself. So the Bears need to explore the possibility of bringing in a complementary back. Bush averaged just 3.1 yards per attempt, and ran seven times for minus-five yards in a Nov. 24 loss at St. Louis. Given that Bush outweighs Forte by 27 pounds, it would seem logical he’d be a more viable short-yardage option. But that didn’t seem to be the case in 2013. The team’s 1,828 rushing yards ranked as the team’s lowest total in three years, and the 404 attempts were the club’s fewest since 2009. The Bears also finished last in the league in third-and-1 rushing situations, converting just 33.3 percent.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Forte ($7.5 million), Bush ($3.85 million), Tony Fiammetta ($730,000), Michael Ford ($496,616). The cap numbers are manageable, but the Bears might look into upgrading in Bush’s spot given that his contributions aren’t commensurate to the $3.85 million cap figure. Perhaps the Bears will give Ford an opportunity to win the No. 2 job during training camp. Ford excelled during training camp and tied with Forte for the team lead in preseason rushing, but he’ll have to improve at pass protection for the team to feel comfortable enough to increase his role.

Draft priority: Low. The Bears would be fine going into the season with Bush as the primary backup to Forte. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see whether they can upgrade there because Forte, while healthy in 2013, has missed time in the past. Teams are increasingly going to a running back-by-committee approach, but in Chicago, Forte has shouldered the majority of the workload. That just doesn’t seem to be a sustainable plan moving forward.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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