For his first two years in the NFL, Matt Forte was clearly the main man in the Bears' running attack.
As a rookie in 2008, Forte had a whopping 379 touches, rushing 316 times for 1,238 yards with 8 touchdowns and catching a team-best 63 passes for 477 yards and 4 more scores. No other Bears running back had more than 34 rushing attempts.
Last season Forte's carries dropped to 258, but that was still more than twice the total of every other Bears ball carrier combined, and none of them had more than 40 carries. And Forte added 57 catches, tied for second on the team, for 471 yards.
But now, for the first time in his professional career, Forte will be asked to share the load. The off-season acquisition of veteran Chester Taylor gives the Bears a solid one-two punch with no expected drop-off from Forte, who is still the starter, to Taylor. Both players are versatile enough to run inside and outside and also provide another threat in the passing game.
The way Forte is looking at it, less could be more. He is neither put off by the competition nor surprised that Taylor was brought in.
"This is the NFL," Forte said after Wednesday's practice. "People are going to be brought in and out of the mix. Competition is part of the game. If you're afraid of competition you shouldn't be playing anyway, so I come out here and compete every day."
There was speculation that the heavy load Forte carried as a rookie caused his productivity to drop last year, when his average yards per carry dipped from 3.9 to 3.6. He was also hampered by an off-season hamstring injury that lingered into the season. Taylor's presence will reduce the wear and tear on Forte, and vice versa.
"A lot of teams have a two-running back-system and actually it prolongs both their careers," Forte said, "so I don't mind having him here to take some reps and get in there as long as we win games and it's working."
After some off-season work, Forte appears to have recaptured the quickness he showed as a rookie.
"I feel a lot faster," he said. "I'm not injured during OTAs unlike last year (the hamstring), and at the end of last season I had (arthroscopic) knee surgery. But I got that healed up, and I actually went down to Florida and did some training so I could re-do the speed training and stuff that I did before that I wasn't (able) to do because of my injuries."
A healthy Forte, even if he cedes some of the backfield work to Taylor, could put up impressive numbers in the Mike Martz offensive scheme that spawned record-breaking stats for Marshall Faulk a decade ago. From 1999-2001, Faulk averaged 2,225 yards of total offense and scored 59 touchdowns.
"You don't even have to look at the numbers, just the name of Marshall Faulk," Forte said. "We watch a lot of old film on them, when they had Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and all those guys, and it just makes you get excited about how good this offense can be with some of the talented guys we've got on this team that can fit those positions."
With Taylor complementing him, Forte won't threaten Faulk's numbers, but if the Bears' offense thrives under Martz, he'll still be a huge part of the resurgence.