- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- After months of the "will he or won't he" debate, Bears running back Matt Forte finally stepped onto a football field in a football jersey Friday afternoon. Unfortunately for Bears fans with "Forte Fatigue," it was a high school field and the jersey was red and white and said "popchips" on the front.
Appearing at a charity event at Marist High School on the southwest side, the franchise-tagged Forte stiff-armed reporters about his still-tenuous contract situation, but admitted the obvious: He will have to play for the Bears this season.
"I don't think I really have a choice, do I?" he said. "Yeah, I'll be here."
When he'll be there is the question, though most believe he'll be in training camp.
"It's going to be a fun season," he said.
If he signs the franchise tender, Forte will make $7.749 million this season. Forte and the Bears have until July 16 to agree on a multiyear deal, which they've been haggling about for more than a year with two general managers. Training camp begins July 26.
"I'm excited to get in there and talk to Mr. (Jeremy) Bates and get in there with Jay (Cutler) and see what he thinks about the passing game, and see how I can get involved in that, too," he said.
Forte has talked passionately about feeling disrespect from the Bears since the contract impasse began in training camp last season. But when asked about his teammates' support of him and separately, his desire to see this impasse end one way or another in the next couple weeks, Forte look annoyed and said, "Any other questions?"
When he first met with reporters, Forte said he wouldn't talk about himself "out of respect" for the event, which was sponsored by the popchips national philanthropic "Game Changers" program and benefitted the Cure It Foundation, a "nonprofit organization fighting to cure pediatric cancer and providing personalized support for children diagnosed with this terrible illness." Forte called attending the event "a no-brainer," and he seemed to enjoy throwing passes to kids on the Marist turf.
But after ignoring the contract questions, he gladly talked about his offseason training regimen.
After a knee injury robbed him of the end of a very strong season, Forte said he's "probably the healthiest I've been since coming out of college."
"I've been lifting a little harder this offseason and running more," he said. "Just because I was able to heal a lot earlier having to sit out the last four games and having that time, and I was able to heal from the other injuries."
Forte, who didn't have to attend OTAs and minicamp because he hasn't signed his franchise tender, did speed training with his usual coach in Florida and said he was "surprised" by the intensity of his lifting workouts at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park.
"I was always a guy who's in the gym. I'm a gym rat," he said. "But I came to work out with them, it was a lot different, a lot harder. So I thought I reached a peak lifting-wise, I didn't think there's anything new I could learn, but they taught me a lot of new stuff. It's going to help me out this year."
Forte said with Mike Tice promoted to offensive coordinator, the principles of the running game will be similar to last year, when he averaged 4.9 yards per carry, running for 997 yards, but only three touchdowns.
"Coach Tice is a great coach and I've known that since he coached Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor down in Jacksonville with their running games," Forte said. "When he got here, I knew it would be the same thing. To have him as coordinator now, it's going to be something to watch. I'm excited about it."
Bears RB Matt Forte evades questions about his contract.