Tice should be good for the Run game
Forte and Bush should thrive as new offensive coordinator has history of utilizing running backs
Home > Sports > Chicago Bears
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
1:05 p.m. CDT, July 12, 2012
Third in a 14-part series leading up to the start of Bears training camp.
Much has been made of the impact new Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice will have on Jay Cutler with a re-tooled playbook that should lead to improved pass protection.
Don't forget about what Tice's promotion will mean for the running backs.
Forgetting about the backs is what Tice's predecessor Mike Martz did too often, a source of consternation within Halas Hall during parts of the past two seasons. Martz inexplicably would ditch the running game some weeks with no warning, no hesitation and no thought to the affect it had on the game.
It led to a come-to-Jesus meeting midway during the 2010 season and coach Lovie Smith nipped it in the bud much earlier in 2011 when the Bears had just 12 rushing plays in both their second and third games. Compare that to 2010 when five times in the first seven games there were 19 rushes or less.
Know this about Tice: He will not abandon his running game en route from the hotel to the stadium on game days. Thus Matt Forte, Michael Bush and the assortment of other backs the Bears have on the roster will be used well.
Tice has said little will change in the running game from a year ago when Forte was one of the most explosive backs in the NFL. He led the league in yards from scrimmage at the time he suffered a right knee sprain in Week 13 that cost him the final four games of the season. The Bears averaged 4.4 yards per carry, the club's best mark since 1990 and Forte had 12 rushes of 20 or more yards, second in the NFL.
The offensive line blocked well on the perimeter in helping Forte to 997 yards in 12 games and the hope is the addition of Michael Bush in free agency will improve the ground game between the tackles. Bush is a physically imposing rusher at 6 foot 1, 245 pounds and should prove to be more explosive than Marion Barber was a year ago when he joined the Bears on his last legs after a solid career with the Cowboys.
It's a little surprising how much attention the Bears have paid to reserve running backs, though, when you consider Barber and Chester Taylor earned $9.5 million in two seasons and now Bush has a $14 million, four-year contract.
While Bush is a different kind of a runner, he also possesses good hands out of the backfield like Forte. That's a dimension of the offense that will not change. The coaching staff also has more confidence in Bush than Kahlil Bell after Bell's fumbling problems late in 2011 when Forte was sidelined.
Bell ran hard when he had opportunities and the Bears chose to tender the restricted free agent for $1.26 million, a lot of money to invest in a third back.
Tice has spoken highly about Armando Allen, who was in a reserve role last season, and with a strong camp and preseason he might have a chance to make the roster.
A peek ahead: Barring a long-term contract extension for Forte before Monday's 3 p.m. deadline to sign players designated with the franchise tag to multi-year deals, he will be entering a contract year once again.
Forte remained focused and motivated in 2011 when he was in that position and will have to be that way again in an effort to aim for the big pay day. The franchise tag is a powerful negotiating tool as it restricts the few players who get it from realizing their true market value.
Perhaps Forte one day will reach the open market but to max out his value he will need another strong season. He started 60 consecutive games before the right knee sprain kept him out of the final four a year ago. He rebounded in time to make a cursory appearance in the Pro Bowl.
But he boycotted the voluntary offseason workout program and refused to attend mandatory veteran minicamp without a contract.
In appearances this spring and early summer, he has looked as trim as he was a year ago when he reported to training camp with a more defined upper body. Forte had the best season of his four-year career following the NFL lockout so there's no reason to believe he will not be ready to go.
Bush can make a difference between the tackles and that could give the offense an added dimension. According to ESPN statistics, over the last two seasons Forte has had 50 rushes up the middle for 151 yards — a 3.02 average. Bush averaged nearly a yard better on runs up the middle the previous two seasons for the Raiders gaining 612 yards on 156 carries up the middle for a 3.92 average.
But Bush doesn't have the lateral quickness, moves and speed Forte possesses. Still, Bush will be a load to bring down in the open field and some were of the opinion he was the best back available in free agency.
Bell has run hard when given opportunities the last two seasons but will have to carve out a niche for himself on special teams because carries for the third back have been few and far between when Forte has been healthy.
If Allen is to push for a roster spot, he will need to become invaluable on special teams.
It will be interesting to see what happens with fullback Tyler Clutts, who carved out a niche after being scooped up from the Browns. He provided something the offense lacked but consider that historically Tice has not used a fullback.
During his span as the Vikings head coach (2002-05), he employed a full-time fullback in just one season. Tice likes versatile tight ends who also can be used in the backfield and that was the Bears' thinking in selecting Temple's Evan Rodriguez in the fourth round of the NFL draft. The Bears have also experimented with tight end Draylen Ross working with running backs during positional drills throughout the offseason.
So, Clutts likely will have to prove his value to stick around, especially if the Bears desire to keep four tight ends with Kyle Adams also in the mix along with veterans Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth.
Glass half-full: If you're a real optimist, the Bears and Forte can find a way to bridge their money gap and work out a multi-year contract before the deadline.
But focusing on this year only, Forte can become the first Bears back since Neal Anderson (1988-1991) to repeat as a Pro Bowl performer.
In their third attempt at a big-dollar backup, Bush should fill the role well and help keep Forte fresh while churning out some tough third-down yards.
Bell's fine if he solves his fumbling issues.
Glass half-empty: If Forte doesn't get the long-term deal he has been seeking, human nature could take over and the contract may become an issue that hinders his performance. Forte also has been a high-mileage back dating back to his senior season at Tulane in 2007.
Bush is better than the backups that came before him but much too expensive for that role.
Bottom line: The offense will remain committed to the run. Despite Martz's intentions, the Bears surpassed 2,000 yards rushing in 2011 and should use that figure as a benchmark once again. One thing Tice has done consistently wherever he has been is run the football.
Coming Saturday: Wide receivers
Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune
I wanted to post this b/c there is an idea that we are going to b/c some pass crazy ignore the run O. That's what we had last year and were complainging about. If we were going to continue that we would have kept Martz and the coaches/Cutler wouldn't squashed his attempts to silence the run game.
Forte and to a lesser extent Bush are going to be a huge part of this O, b/c the OL run blocks better then pass block. Tice wants to get the ball into his playmakers...ie Marsh and Forte and Hester. YOu cannot do that w/passing the ball 40-50 times a game and running the ball 12-20.
Look for 20-30 runs and 30-40 passes, which is what Smitch and Tice will consider balanced.