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Bears hope Forte-Taylor combination packs punch
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte takes a handoff from quarterback Jay Cutler.

 

John Starks | Staff Photographer

Chester Taylor was added in free agency to complement and compete with Matt Forte, whose production plummeted last season after an encouraging rookie campaign in 2008 that included 379 touches and may have worn him down.

 

Associated Press file

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Published: 4/11/2010 10:02 PM

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For the Bears, the running back position was a major disappointment last season, but it has been strengthened significantly through the addition of one of the league's best backups, Chester Taylor.

The former Minnesota Viking was added in free agency to complement and compete with Matt Forte, whose production plummeted last season after an encouraging rookie campaign in 2008 that included 379 touches and may have worn him down.

Forte's average per carry dropped from 3.9 as a rookie to 3.6 last year. His speed and quickness seemed to diminish last season, but he didn't get much help from the offensive line.

Despite a sophomore slump, Forte still caught 57 passes for 471 yards. But he needed 258 carries to gain 929 yards. Excluding runs of 61, 53 and 37 yards against the Detroit Lions, Forte did not have a run of longer than 16 yards last season.

Taylor is 30 but has low miles since he has only been the featured runner in one of his eight NFL seasons.

"When you haven't been the guy who's taken every snap, that has to help you," coach Lovie Smith said. "That's the case with Chester. He doesn't have the wear and tear you would think."

However, Taylor's yards per carry have dropped in each of the past two seasons, from a career-best 5.4 in 2007, to 4.0 in 2008 and down to 3.7 last season, when the Vikings also had difficulties run blocking.

Like Forte, Taylor is a versatile back, combining inside and outside run skills with good hands and blocking ability. Taylor has caught more than 40 passes in four of the past five seasons.

The question everyone wants to know is: How will carries be divided between Forte and Taylor? For now, Smith says Forte remains the starter, but performance will determine playing time, with the hot hand in any particular game getting more touches. But it could be the workload gers divided evenly.

"Chester Taylor was a real good fit as well and we just brought (him) in because we wanted to bring in another quality back," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "It's nothing to do with any pecking order. The players always determine that, as well as the coaches."

Rookie Kahlil Bell was activated off the Bears' practice squad after nine weeks last season and impressed in limited duty. He finished second on the team with 220 rushing yards on 40 attempts (5.5-yard average) and had the Bears' longest play from scrimmage, a 72-yard scamper on his first NFL carry.

With unrestricted free agent Adrian Peterson not expected to return, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound Bell could move past Garrett Wolfe as the team's No. 3 runner this season. Wolfe has struggled to find a niche, but the 5-foot-7, 185-pounder averaged 5.5 yards on 22 carries and contributed in coverage on special teams.

Eight-year veteran FB Jason McKie was cut in the off-season, leaving a void, although that position isn't vital in new offensive coordinator Mike Martz's offense. The only two fullbacks currently on the roster are first-year players Eddie Williams and Will Ta'ufo'ou, who spent most of their time last season on practice squads.