- Melissa Isaacson, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Churning up a toboggan hill as part of his offseason conditioning program in a suburban Chicago park, Matt Forte apparently stopped long enough only to urge on and, yes, ride his workout partner.
"He killed me," said Michael Ford, one of several Bears running backs vying for the No. 2 spot behind Forte this training camp.
"His work ethic is amazing and the things he does in the offseason to get himself ready are brutal. ... But the tradition set before him and with him, we have to hold to the same standards."
Ford and the others are well aware what they are up against -- not just the No. 2 job, which to a large extent, is up for grabs, or in the words of GM Phil Emery just last week, "very unsettled."
But with four of the five backs behind Forte having not had a single NFL carry, they must also be prepared to step into a position that may be de-valued throughout the league but remains a central part of the Bears offense.
Forte's production in 2013 amounted to almost one-third of the Bears' total offense; his career highs in rushing (1,339 yards) and receiving (74 catches for 594 yards) both setting a standard and a making a statement that first-year coach and offensive innovator Marc Trestman was not about to abandon his running back.
"It's important to this offense," said rookie Ka'Deem Carey. "You get out in bursts, you catch some passes, you run, you pass block. They love the running back here, so I landed in the perfect spot."
Carey, selected in the fourth found, will get plenty of competition from Ford, Shaun Draughn, who signed a one-year free agent contract and undrafted rookies Senorise Perry and Jordan Lynch, who might end up with a spot on the practice squad in his first year of transitioning from college quarterback to NFL running back.
"You can tell the way the reps are going, they want to see everybody at their best, so they give you chances out there to make plays and it's up to you to learn the playbook and do it," Carey said Monday, the second day in pads for the Bears.
"With everyone out there, it just makes you better. But we're not selfish. If someone messes up, we'll tell him what he did wrong and we'll learn off his mistakes and we just get better off each other's mistakes."
Carey's speed has been questioned, but more importantly for the former Arizona standout and the others will be their protection skills. Ford, who played in 12 games last season on special teams, likely will contribute the most in the return game.
"It's definitely not nerve-wracking," Ford said of the competition, "because it's always going to bring out the best. If you want to be the best, you have to play the best and you want the best competition at your camp. At least then you know you're going to be battle-tested."
Ford said he prefers not to look at the position as his.
"Even Matt told me he doesn't look at it like that," he said. "He just goes to practice everyday and tries to separate himself from everybody and he tells me to do that, too. ... Just try to get better each and every day."