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BOURBONNAIS – The Bears’ first two practices of training camp confirmed what Michael Bush already believed about the team’s talent and depth at running back.
“Yeah,” Bush said with a smile Friday. “It’s loaded all around.”
In pushing each other, the group could lift the Bears to some hard-fought wins.
The Bears finished ninth in the NFL with 125.9 rushing yards a game last season, and that was with a stubborn, pass-first offensive coordinator in Mike Martz. It’s possible – perhaps likely – that the Bears’ running game could enjoy more success this season with new coordinator Mike Tice calling plays and Bush joining Matt Forte in the backfield.
So far during camp, the Bears’ running game has been hard to grade. Nonpadded practices have meant no contact at the line of scrimmage, which has led coaches to call only a smattering of running plays to go along with a heavy dose of passing plays.
A few more running plays could be in store today when the Bears wear full pads for the first time this summer. Fans who arrive for the 7 p.m. practice at Olivet Nazarene University will be able to view a running back group that includes a pair of 1,000-yard rushers (Forte and Bush) along with a talented group of reserves (Kahlil Bell, Lorenzo Booker and Armando Allen).
How about this for depth? Bell stepped in for an injured Forte to rush for 240 yards in the final three games of last season, including 121 yards against the Green Bay Packers in Week 16, and he’s not even guaranteed to make the final cut.
“I think we’re as good as can be,” Bell said before the start of Friday’s 21⁄2-hour practice. “Any guy can go in there and make plays.”
The main guy, of course, is Forte.
After a lengthy contract dispute that threatened to linger in to training camp, Forte signed a four-year extension earlier this month reportedly worth up to $32 million. He showed up to training camp on time and in shape, and he wasted no time flashing his ability during a long sprint down the left sideline in his first practice.
Forte’s speed on that play grabbed the attention of Tice.
“It shows you what we can do,” Tice said. “When you have a back, which I’ve been blessed to have a couple of them before, that can take it to the house from anywhere on the field, it certainly changes what the defense can do to you.”
What Forte features in run-catch versatility, Bush offers in brute strength. The Bears signed Bush (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) to blast through the line of scrimmage in short-yardage and goal-line situations, but he also has proved to be a good receiver with 37 catches for 418 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield last season.
Forte, 26, said adding Bush to a deep group of running backs would only help.
“Every year I’ve been here, there’s another guy that was brought in to push me or to help me out,” Forte said. “That’s what I look at it as.”
“Like I always said, competition brings success out of everybody. It’s either going to make you better or you’re going to work harder to try to get better. He’s a great guy. It’s going to be a fun year.”
Bears fans sure hope so.