In the first part of this series we discussed the quarterback position for the Chicago Bears, so we'll stay in the offensive backfield and check out the running backs.
The John Fox (Head Coach), Adam Gase (Offensive Coordinator) and Dave Magazu (Offensive line coach) combo had the Denver Broncos running game ranked in the top half of the league the last 2 years, and that was with one of the greatest passers in the NFL under center. In 2011, Fox and Magazu's first year in Denver, they led the league in rushing. Fox and Magazu also had some real good rushing attacks in Carolina, including having two backs go over a thousand yards in the same season (2009).
John Fox has always been a coach that believes in running the ball and playing strong defense, so I would expect the Bears to improve on their 30th-ranked 355 rushing attempts from 2014.
While in Denver, Fox and Magazu used a power-blocking scheme with some zone-blocking influences. In the power running game we'll see the Bears pull the backside guard on occasion. We should also see some counter plays and depending on the personnel, we may see some lead plays.
Matt Forte - signed through 2015 - Matt Forte enters the final year of his contract, one season after setting an NFL record for receptions by a running back (102). He was solid as a runner too, topping the thousand yard mark (1,038) for the 5th time in his career. The 29 year old Forte will be playing for one more big contract, and he'll be doing so in a system that has had a lot of success running the ball.
It may be best for Forte's career if the Bears utilize the 2nd tailback more than in years past. According to Pro Football Focus, Forte played more snaps than any other running back in the NFL in 2014 (1,006). He also led all RBs in snaps in 2013 with 940. So at an age when most backs start scaling back their playing time, the Bears surpassed Forte's previous high in snaps that he set as a rookie in 2008 (875).
He also may have tired down the stretch in 2014. PFF had Forte with an overall grade of -0.6, but in his first 10 games, he was a +.7.8. During that time he averaged 4.24 yards per carry and PFF had him down for six positive (green) games in those first ten games, with just two in the red (negative) and two neutral (white).
In Chicago's final six games of the season Forte had 4 weeks graded in the red and 2 neutral. His PFF grade over that span was -8.4 and his yards per carry was 3.28.
Ka'Deem Carey - signed through 2017 - Carey had a very productive collegiate career, but he only had 41 touches as a rookie. The Bears will give him a chance to earn some more playing time and, with a new coaching regime in place, he'll have some fresh eyes on him in camp.
Carey had his most playing time way back in week 4 against the Green Bay Packers, and it was also his most productive day as a pro. He played 21 snaps that day, with 14 carries for 72 yards.
I think Carey is the kind of runner that will endear himself to the new coaching staff.
Senorise Perry - signed through 2016 - Perry played one snap on offense last year, but he played in all 16 games on special teams. The 3rd phase is probably his best chance to stick on the roster in 2015, but he's far from a roster lock.
Montell Owens - free agent - Owens is a two time Pro Bowler as a special teamer (2010-11), but he hasn't done much offensively since 2012 while in Jacksonville. I doubt he returns to Chicago in 2015.
2015 OUTLOOK - Forte will still be the lead back, but I would expect the Bears to settle on a #2 at some point and split the carries more than the last two seasons. I would also expect the Bears to bring in an undrafted rookie or two and one or two young free agents to compete at tailback.
In the two seasons Adam Gase called plays in Denver, he didn't use a traditional fullback once. He has used a defensive tackle in that spot on occasion, but he's mostly a TE/H-Back kind of play caller.
What are your expectations at the running back position for the Bears in 2015?