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This is the second in a series of position-by-position looks at the Bears' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. The series continues with an analysis of Chicago's RB situation.
Overview: It took a while, but offensive coordinator Mike Martz finally emphasized the running game more after a Week Eight bye, and the Bears' offense was at its best when it was balanced.
The shift away from a pass-heavy attack helped turn the team's season around.
RB Matt Forté had 12 carries or less in five of the first seven games, when the Bears had a 4-3 record. Chicago won seven of its final nine games with Forté playing a more prominent role in the offense, and the Tulane product proved he's one of the league's best all-around backs. For the season, he rushed for 1,069 yards and gained 547 yards receiving, making him one of only five backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards and gain more than 500 receiving yards in 2010.
The Bears signed RB Chester Taylor to a four-year deal that included $7 million guaranteed last offseason and it was expected that he would cut into Forté's workload. Forté had struggled with injuries in '09 and Taylor, who had spent the previous four seasons backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, was supposed to push him. Taylor's opportunities were limited, however — in part because of Forté's strong play — and Taylor gained only 2.4 yards per carry. He was often used in short-yardage situations, but he struggled in that role, too. He went through a string in the second half of the season in which he had more carries than yards in four of five games.
Heading into 2011, there is uncertainty about how the Bears' depth chart at running back will shake out once you get past Forté.
Here's a breakdown of each of the running backs on the roster:
Matt Forté: An ideal fit in Martz's offense because of his versatility as a rusher and receiver, Forté solidified his status as one of the team's most valuable players after hamstring and knee injuries nagged him in '09. He was more explosive in '10 and gained a career-high 4.5 yards per carry. He has proven to be durable — Forté has yet to miss a game in his three seasons.
Chester Taylor: There have been conflicting reports about Taylor's future in Chicago — some have suggested he will be released — but it looks like the 31-year-old's best days are behind him. While he scored three touchdowns, his production lagged well behind the standard he set previously in his career.
Garrett Wolfe: He played sparingly on offense, getting a career-low four carries. Wolfe, a third-round pick in '07, was a key contributor on special teams, but the undersized four-year veteran is due to become an unrestricted free agent.
Kahlil Bell: While some were hoping to get a chance to see if Bell could be a better option than Taylor, Bell was inactive in all 16 games after gaining 5.5 yards per carry on 40 attempts in '09. He failed to carve out a niche on special teams.
Harvey Unga: A 237-pound bruiser, Unga spent the season on injured reserve after injuring his hamstring in training camp. The Bears selected him in the seventh round of last year's supplemental draft, which cost Chicago its seventh-round pick in this year's draft. He's a powerful runner and has good hands.
Bottom line: Forté has outperformed his rookie contract and he might get an extension before next season. He has one year left on his deal and he can be a long-term staple in Martz's offense. If Taylor is back, he could have more competition for the top backup role, as it would be no surprise if Unga gets more involved.