Our new Confidence Check series kicked off on Saturday by looking at the Bears quarterback depth chart, and over 70% of respondents had a high level of confidence in Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, and Matt Blanchard. This time around we'll examine the running back position, which has had some movement at the bottom of the depth chart this offseason, which may or may not impact the regular season depth chart.
A refresher for how this series works: we examine the individual players at each respective position on the depth chart and assign them a level of confidence (high, low, or zero) based on their ability to perform their role (relative to their position on the depth chart). So as you read through these, don't infer that I like a third-stringer better just because I have more confidence in them than the starter (like with the quarterbacks), its just that I have greater confidence in them fulfilling the duties of their place on the depth chart.
Starting Running Back: Matt Forte (6th year with Bears)
Job Responsibilities: Serve as the teaming primary option in the ground game, provide adequate passing blocking and reception skills, stay healthy and productive over the course of the entire season.
Job So Far: Forte has been a consistently good (very good) but not great running back for the Bears. In five years, his lowest season rushing total is 929 yards, while his highest came in his rookie season (1,238). Over the past three years he's averaging 1,053 rushing yards a season and averaging 4.6 yards per carry. His yardage totals have been affected by injuries - with Forte missing five games over the past two seasons - but his ypc average is excellent. He's never been a big touchdown guy (career high eight in his rookie season), but is an adept receiver out of the backfield (averaging over fifty catches and 450 receiving yards a season).
Confidence Level: High. The only knocks about Forte are his recent injury concerns and his inability to be a quality short-yardage back. His receiving abilities will be better utilized in Trestman's west coast offense, and the additions to the offensive line should help Forte to stop dancing in the backfield whether there is a hole to run through or not. Forte should be effective this season regardless of how many combined touches he gets, and if the team really leans hard on him and he delivers, I could see a possible All-Pro season for him.
Backup Running Back: Michael Bush (2nd year with Bears, 6th year in NFL)
Job Responsibilities: Provide quality backfield play in relief of the starting running back, contribute in passing game via blocking and receiving out of the backfield, and be the primary back for short-yardage situations.
Job So Far: Bush finally broke the mold of veteran free agent the Bears have signed to backup Forte, meaning that he was somewhat successful in his fulfilling his duties. His season totals are not especially exciting (411 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns) and his 3.6 yards per carry average were a career-low, but remember that Bush was a backup and the short-yardage specialist, so of course his ypc would go down. With three yards or less to go, Bush had fourteen carries this season on third or fourth down, and converted for a first down 71% of the time. Forte, Kahlil Bell, and Armando Allen had fourteen carries in those situations, but only converted 50%. That may not seem like much, but its a crucial aspect to their offense the Bears have struggled with for years.
Confidence Level: High. Bush was solid in short yardage situations, and while I would have liked to see him up his ypc average when he has a lot of carries in a game (only once averaged over 3.5 ypc in 2012 when having ten or more carries), I have no reason to assume his role changes drastically or he falters badly. Another reason to have high confidence: Bush can catch just as well as Forte (averages twenty catches a year) despite spending the majority of his career as a backup.
Third String Running Back: Armando Allen (2nd year in NFL)
Job Responsibilities: Emergency running back, special teams contributions, end of game carries in blowouts, developmental young player that can get better.
Job So Far: After going undrafted in 2011, Allen signed on with the Bears after being dropped by the Buccaneers, playing in two games his rookie season and picking up forty-eight yards. Last year, with injury issues and ineffectiveness affecting the Bears' backfield depth again, Allen got more chances to play and picked up 124 yards on the season, including a forty-six yard touchdown run against the Jaguars. Allen was signed this offseason as an exclusive rights player to a one-year deal, but can be cut at any time as his contract has no guaranteed money.
Confidence Level: High. The big thing with Allen to remember is that he's third on the depth chart, so he has to contribute in some way to the team now and show enough flashes of talent to stick around as he develops. I think he showed last year that he can be decent in spots and is worth a possible roster spot, but it'll be a battle he'll have to continue to fight. I liked what I saw from him last year, and would be perfectly content if he stuck around. That being said, Michael Ford could give him a run for his job this year.
Overall Confidence Level: High
Well, obviously it's high since I have a high level of confidence at each spot on the running back depth chart. The Bears will re-utilize Forte's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield to help take pressure off of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. And honestly, I just think those three spots on the depth chart are solid, and if Ford pushes out Allen, that can only mean better things from that third string spot. Phil Emery may have had to rebuild the offensive line, and Marc Trestman will have to rebuild the Bears passing game, but the Bears running backs are doing just fine.