Conventional wisdom in the modern NFL says that running backs are in for an emphatic drop-off when they get to 30 years-old. So, last season, when the Chicago Bears signed Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte to a four-year, $32 million contract, everyone hoped Phil Emery knew what he was doing.
The contract is set to take Forte right up to the doorstep of 31 years-old, meaning the Bears would have to squeeze every last drop out of him in the final years of his deal to make the deal worth it. Now, in his second year of the new contract, Matt Forte looks as explosive as ever, and he could be in for a career year.
No, it's not just that Forte had the opportunity to spend an entire offseason working with his teammates (as opposed to last year when he held out until mid-July), it's that he looks lighter and faster. Whether that was by design of the coaches or Matt Forte himself, a lighter, faster running back behind the best offensive line the Bears have fielded in the last five years can only mean good things for Forte and the Chicago Bears’ running game.
Set to turn 28 years-old in December, Matt Forte has been a productive back for years. He's averaged over 1,500 yards from scrimmage through his first five seasons in the league; however, he's also averaged over 300 touches a year.
Despite entering just his sixth season, he has the 11th most career touches of any running back in the National Football League. Now, granted, Matt Forte isn't the punishing runner that Michael Turner is or the explosive athlete of a LeSean McCoy, so it's not as if you expect his knees to blowout on a violent cut or for his body to start experiencing the general aches and pains of spending a career as a between-the-tackles bruiser.
No, Matt Forte is somewhere in between. Fast and dynamic enough to make somebody miss in space, but strong enough to earn yardage in between the tackles. Ideally, that style means a prolonged period of excellence for Forte, who has missed only five games in five seasons — four of which came in the 2011 season.
However, even if you imagine a best-case scenario for Matt Forte's career, it's hard to imagine more than three or four more season of this type of production. That's why it's absolutely critical for the former Tulane star to make the most of his twenties.
And, while the preseason can always be a misnomer, thus far, he has looked generally lighter and more explosive, and I think we could be witnessing the best version of Matt Forte behind the best version of the Chicago Bears’ offensive line we've seen in years. That's good news for an offense that will need to lean on the running game as they continue to develop offensive continuity and learn the intricacies of Marc Trestman's passing attack.
On Friday, against the perennially terrible Oakland Raiders, Forte was dominant and looked comfortable in Chicago's new zone-blocking scheme. The Bears offensive line created flow, and Matt Forte repeatedly cut against the grain into gaping lanes and then proceeded to make tacklers miss in the second and third levels. It was vintage Forte with an added burst. It was enough to elicit some excitement from this generally tepid preseason viewer.
And, while some worried about Matt Forte's dwindling numbers as a receiver out of the backfield, he looks rejuvenated as a pass-catching option in a West Coast offense that seems intent on getting their playmakers the football in space.
The result could be a huge year for Matt Forte, and while most of the attention will be on Jay Cutler in a contract year, a big year from Forte could be the Bears’ best chance at offensive success in 2013. Maybe even playoff-type success, in which case, I guess you could say the Chicago Bears are getting their money's worth.
Subscribe to Chicago Bears Huddle:
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. Our list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Filed under: Players