LAKE FOREST – Kahlil Bell understands the Bears are in a difficult spot.
They’re missing their top two offensive players with quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte sidelined indefinitely because of injuries. Losses are starting to pile up, too, and a playoff berth that appeared a certainty not too long ago is hardly a sure thing at the moment.
The Bears (7-5) have dropped two consecutive games since Caleb Hanie took over for Cutler after winning five in a row. Now they’re trying to get by without their top ballcarrier, after Forte sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee against Kansas City on Sunday.
That means they’re leaning more on Marion Barber and Bell, a one-time Pro Bowl pick and a relative unknown.
“It’s unfortunate that Matt had to go down for me to get my opportunity, but I’m just going to try to fill his shoes,” Bell said.
They’re not exactly a small size.
Forte leads the league in yards from scrimmage (1,487) and is third in rushing (997), so he’s leaving some large footprints. It’s not clear when, exactly, he’ll be back after he took a hit to his knee on a first-quarter run Sunday, but he will miss the upcoming game against Denver.
Forte said players with his injury usually are out two to six weeks. He got a platelet -rich plasma injection on Tuesday, hoping to speed the healing process, but his status for the rest of the season is in question. The same goes for Cutler, who broke his right thumb two weeks earlier against San Diego.
The Bears hope to get them back at some point this season, but neither player is making any guarantees. With the stars out, the Bears are relying on backups at both positions.
“When you lose a player of Matt’s caliber, it’s going to impact your football team,” general manager Jerry Angelo said on the team’s website. “His versatility and his playmaking ability will be missed. The good news is it sounds like we’re going to get him back fairly soon. Unfortunately, we won’t have him for Denver, and each one of these remaining games has huge playoff ramifications for us. While we’ll miss Matt, I have confidence in Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell. They have their own styles that conform to our offense.”
Barber and Bell are being counted on to pick up the load in the running game, and the Bears will need more than they got against the Chiefs.
Barber ran for 44 yards on 14 attempts, but he also lined up illegally, wiping out his 4-yard touchdown catch and forcing the Bears to settle for a field goal in the first half. Bell showed some promise, running for 34 yards on four carries, but he remains something of an unknown.
“I’m relatively untested in this league,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and do what I’ve done my whole life.”
“We’re all here for a reason. We’re all in the NFL because we do something particularly well. I’m going to go try to execute to the best of my abilities. Whatever the outcome is going to be, I’m going to live with it,” Barber said.
Bell made a big splash on his first attempt as a pro against Philadelphia in 2009 when he broke off a 72-yard run. He has averaged five yards per carry in his career, but the sample size is small. He has just 55 attempts – 15 for 57 yards this season after being inactive for every game last year – but is now being counted on to help fill another big hole on offense as the Bears try to secure a postseason spot.
Like Barber, he’s more of an up-the-middle runner but is not as good a blocker. Neither is as accomplished a receiver as Forte, but offensive coordinator Mike Martz insisted they can be productive in that area even though they don’t have many receptions.
Barber, who once caught 52 passes for Dallas, has three receptions for 18 yards to go with 281 yards rushing in his first season with the Bears. Bell’s lone catch as a pro was a 4-yarder as a rookie, and he only caught 29 passes at UCLA.
“They both have terrific hands,” Martz said. “Each one has a different set of skills in terms of running routes. There are some things that we will do with Kahlil, maybe not with Marion, and vice versa. They can catch the ball very, very well. Very soft hands. ... We wouldn’t back off anything in the passing game with those guys. Obviously, Matt was unusual, very unusual.”
Note: Angelo said on the team’s website it wouldn’t make sense to bring in a veteran who’s unfamiliar with Martz’s system, such as Donovan McNabb or even Brett Favre, at this point. “I’m not saying that McNabb can’t play,” Angelo said. “He’s just not as familiar with our offense and we don’t have the time to be grooming a backup given our situation. I’m not even factoring Brett Favre into the equation because he hasn’t played or even practiced from the preseason on. We’re all assuming he’s in great shape and frothing to come back and play football, which we all know is not true. So the Favre thing is just a fantasy.”