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In this ongoing series, we'll take a position by position look at the Chicago Bears roster with an eye towards 2013. We'll speculate on who stays, who goes, and some potential additions we'd like to see. Also thanks to our friends at Pro Football Focus, we'll bring you their unique insight on the Chicago Bears.
The last time Marc Trestman called plays in the NFL (2003), Oakland Raiders running back Charlie Garner had 48 receptions. The previous year, when the Raiders went to the Super Bowl, Garner had 91 receptions. During Trestman's Arizona years he was getting the ball to his backs via the pas too. In 2000 Thomas Jones and Michael Pittman combined for 105 catches, in 1999 Adrian Murrell had 49, and in 1998 fullback Larry Centers had 69 receptions.
Going back to his San Francisco years when he was their offensive coordinator, tailback Terry Kirby had 52 receptions and fullbacks Tommy Vardell and William Floyd combined for 54 grabs in 1996. In 1995 Derek Loville had 87, and fullback Floyd added 47 more. His lone year as Cleveland play caller, 1989, saw Eric Metcalf catch 54 balls.
To get even more current, in 2012, Montreal Alouettes running back Brandon Whitaker had 49 receptions, and in 2011 he had 72.
If I were Matt Forte I would be very excited to play for Trestman. Returning fullback Evan Rodriguez should be bubbling with excitement as well, because the West Coast Offense is very friendly to running backs. Screens, check downs, and arrows are just some of the ways the backfield will get involved in the WCO quick passing game.
Matt Forte - Signed through 2015 - Whether you thought Forte should have been paid or not, we can all agree that Mike Tice failed to use his skill set correctly in 2012. Forte still had 44 receptions, but it seemed like he was an after thought in the passing game. That changes in 2013 and I'd expect Forte to go over 60 catches.
Pro Football Focus had Forte with his worst grade since his injury plagued 2009 season. He was a +2.1 in 2012 after being graded +12.7 in 2011, and +11.6 in 2010.
Michael Bush - Signed though 2015 - I would expect Bush's role to change slightly. He'll still spell Forte a few series here and there, and he'll still be the primary short yardage back, but the WCO has a lot of two back formations. Bush isn't a fullback, but he could line up in that position from time to time to try and catch the D off guard.
While not as prolific a pass catcher as Forte, he does have good hands. According to PFF, Bush was targeted 11 times last season and he caught 9 of them. The previous year in Oakland, Bush had a career high 37 receptions with a catch percentage of 86%. Bush also had a higher overall PFF grade in 2012, than Forte, by a .2 margin.
I've seen and heard a few comments that Bush isn't a fit for the new O, and I disagree. He's quick enough out of his stance for the quick hitters from a split back or up position, and as the tailback of the I formation, he is a downhill runner. Until we see the specifics of Trestman's run game, I'll assume he'll run what he ran in his previous stops in the NFL.
Armando Allen - Exclusive rights free agent - I'm sure the Bears were happy with Allen as their #3 back, but that's not to say they won't look for an upgrade. He had 27 rushing attempts in 49 offensive snaps, for 124 yards. He also played a little special teams. Pro Football Focus gave him a neutral grade of -0.8 on the year.
For more of the Pro Football Focus grading system click here.
Kahlil Bell - Free agent - After coming and going a few times as a Chicago Bear, I think Bell may be gone for good. The Bears only brought him back because of some injury woes, and his familiarity with the offense. With a new O in 2013, I don't see any scenario Bell returns. And fyi, he was the lowest graded back for the Bears according to PFF at a -3.0.
Harvey Unga - Signed though 2013 - I don't know why, but I'm rooting for Unga to succeed with the Bears. Maybe it's it's his personal issues that he's had to battle through, or maybe it's just that I like watching the big guys run, but I think there's a place for Unga on this team. At BYU he was a tailback with a fullback frame (6', 244), and he was a valuable part of their passing game as he racked up 102 receptions in 3 seasons. If Unga can spell both RB and FB, I think Trestman will keep him around. At his pro day, he worked quite a bit in catching the ball out of the backfield;
Unga did not drop a pass during his drills, administrated by NFL personnel. Former Cougar quarterback Charlie Peterson threw the passes.
"I worked with Harvey for two hours this week and he never dropped a pass," Peterson said. "He is smooth, very smooth and he's got great hands."
Evan Rodriguez - Signed through 2015 - Rodriguez played tight end at Temple, but made the switch to fullback as a rookie, and had a solid season. At 6'2" 239, I suppose there's a chance he moves back to TE, but I'd like to see how his development at FB continues. As you can see from those WCO FB receptions above, there's a place for a pass catching FB on this offense. Mike Tice rarely used him in that manner, but in 2013 he will see the ball.
PFF had the rookie graded as the 15th best fullback in the NFL with a +2.0. His +2.7 as a blocker placed him 12th. If he develops like the Bears hope he can, I expect a very good season out of him.
2013 OUTLOOK - I think the Bears will explore upgrading the depth chart behind Forte and Bush. While I doubt they'll draft a guy in the first few rounds, as they have a lot of money tied up in the position, I think they'll look for a scat back type in the later rounds. I don't foresee them dipping into the veteran free agent pool, but bringing in a few undrafted rookies is a strong possibility.
At fullback, it would be smart to bring in some competition as well. With as much as the West Coast Offense uses backs, it's possible that the Bears may carry one or two more than in years past.