Matt Forte misses Bears' minicamp

Updated: June 12, 2012, 7:11 PM ET
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Predictably, franchise-tagged running back Matt Forte skipped the opening day of Chicago Bears mandatory veteran minicamp Tuesday, with coach Lovie Smith looking to evade most questioning regarding the contract situation that leaves the team without its top rusher.

Asked whether he'd like to have entered minicamp with Forte's contract impasse with the organization resolved, Smith said, "I can't speculate. I have a blast coaching the guys we have here right now. It doesn't do any good to speculate on things like that."

Smith became evasive again when asked about Forte's potential training camp availability, saying "I wouldn't speculate on that," before finally opening up somewhat about the running back's absence.

"It's not an issue for me, really. It can't be," Smith said. "I look at it (like) during the course of the year you have guys that aren't here for whatever, injuries, whatever. You coach the guys that can go, that can practice. We've been spending all of our time with that. I know Matt Forte. I'm sure he's getting ready to go. But in the meantime, the best thing we can do for the Chicago Bears is just keep this train going. When he shows up, we'll be ready to coach him up then."

The wait could be long, even with quarterback Jay Cutler expressing the sentiment that he'd be "shocked" if Forte didn't report on time to training camp.

Given the franchise designation in March, the 26-year-old Forte explained on NFL Network recently that he's not looking to become the highest-paid back but instead seeks a long-term contract in the neighborhood of some of the top players around the league at his position.

The sides started negotiating a new contact last summer, but haven't been able to reach accord, which is why the organization designated Forte the franchise player, a tag that will pay the running back approximately $7.7 million this season.

Forte missed four games in 2011 with a sprained MCL in his knee, but put together a career year, running for a team-high 997 yards, in addition to catching 52 passes for 490 yards.

If Forte and the Bears don't reach a long-term agreement by the NFL's July 16 deadline for franchise players to sign multi-year extensions, the running back must play under the franchise tag. Forte appears poised to hold out during training camp in July.

Free-agent acquisition Michael Bush has taken all the reps in Forte's absence.

"We'd love to have him. Hopefully we get him for training camp," Cutler said Tuesday. "But if we don't, we've got to move on. It's part of the business. I don't think anyone is worried about Matt coming in and not being able to learn the offense or being out of shape. He's a smart guy. He's going to come in in shape. So it's just a matter of time if and when we get the guy."

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter