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Bears' Forte: running game
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/27/2008 12:04 AM

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Matt Forte, the Bears' second-round draft pick, seems more like a replacement for running back Cedric Benson than a complement.

Not just because the 6-foot-1, 217-pound Tulane product is similar -- more of a tough, power runner than a breakaway threat -- but because Benson's coming off a fractured ankle.

The organization is disappointed in Benson's production and injury history since he was the fourth overall pick in 2005.

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"I felt like our running game obviously was one of the weak spots on our football team," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said after tabbing Forte 44th overall. "He gives us a big back; a three-down back. He's got enough speed to get to the outside, and he has the ability to make people miss at the second level.

"Those two areas where we could really never find any consistency, which made us an easy team to defend."

Forte (pronounced four-TAY) bounced back from left knee surgery in 2006 to rush for 2,127 yards last season, second-best in the nation. He averaged 5.9 yards on 361 carries, scored 23 touchdowns and also caught 32 passes for 282 yards.

Forte doesn't have top-end speed, and he ran a pedestrian 4.59 40-yard dash at his pro day, but he has been timed as low as 4.46.

He has good vision and run instincts with good cut-back ability and is also an effective receiver with soft hands, although he doesn't have great run-after-the-catch ability.

Benson, Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe combined last season for the lowest average gain per carry in the NFL (3.1 yards), and the Bears were 30th of 32 teams in rushing yards.

Benson, who averaged 3.4 yards per carry, didn't have a run longer than 16 yards until the 10th game of the season, and he suffered the season-ending injury in the next game.

"Maybe he's not the featured back we thought he'd be," Angelo said of Benson. "He's had those injuries. When we thought we were starting to see a little something, then he breaks his ankle. I and the coaches felt we needed to make sure that we protected that position."

Forte will have every opportunity to take the No. 1 job because the Bears see him as a complete, three-down back.

"I think that made me attractive," Forte said. "That's what they are looking for, and that's what they need; somebody who is not just a first- and second-down running back, but someone who can stay on the field and pass block or run a route and catch the ball and make a play in the open field and make people miss.

"What I have gotten from the coaches is that they want a guy who can come in and compete and show what I can do, and whatever happens, happens."