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No deal, but a full workload, for Matt Forte

9/7/2011

The Chicago Bears might have ended contract talks with tailback Matt Forte this week, but it appears he will be more valuable than ever in Sunday's season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

Backup running back Marion Barber sat out another practice Wednesday because of a calf injury he suffered Aug. 27. If Barber can't play Sunday, Forte's only backup will be little-used Kahlil Bell, who suffered a knee injury of his own this summer but fully participated in Wednesday's practice. It's always possible that Barber could practice minimally this week and then give it a go Sunday, but calf injuries can be debilitating for running backs and the Bears might not want to risk a setback at the outset of the season.

Forte was a workhorse for the Bears as a rookie in 2008, getting 316 carries and also catching 63 passes, but the Bears have pulled back on his touches in recent seasons, first by signing veteran Chester Taylor last year and then Barber this summer. Forte had career lows in carries (237) and receptions (51) in 2010, but he still produced 1,616 all-purpose yards and a gained career-high 5.6 yards every time he touched the ball.

Forte admitted he was "surprised" and "disappointed" that the Bears cut off negotiations, and during an interview session with Chicago-area reporters, he made clear he thinks he has earned an extension.

"Coming into the league you feel like this is supposed to be production-based," Forte said. "When you produce in the offense, you expect the team or the organization to actually notice that compared to other guys. We just couldn't meet in the middle I guess."

I still think it's possible the talks could restart later this season. But for now, Forte will have to keep demonstrating the durability that put him in this position in the first place. Forte hasn't missed a game in three seasons, a fact that is especially notable as the Bears sweat out Barber's availability. We'll keep you updated throughout the week.