BOURBONNAIS – In a rare break from his typical position in the Bears’ backfield, Matt Forte lined up at wideout during a recent practice and waited for the snap.
Forced to adjust, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs shadowed Forte.
Moments later, the Bears’ Pro Bowl running back looked as if he also could have been a Pro Bowl receiver. Forte beat Briggs by a step down the left sideline, and Jay Cutler hit him in stride for what would have been a deep touchdown in a real game.
Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake marveled at how easy Forte made it look.
“He’s unbelievable,” Drake said. “He can do it all. You can put him anywhere. He’s the most versatile player on our team, the most complete player.
“He could excel at any position, I really believe that. I believe that’s how special he is. He could play receiver, defensive back, running back. He’s just that good.”
The Bears boast one of their deepest groups of wide receivers in many years, but Forte remains among the team’s best
pass catchers. He is expected to make his preseason debut Saturday against the Washington Redskins after sitting out the team’s first preseason game against the Denver Broncos.
After signing a four-year contract extension reportedly worth up to $32 million, Forte has enjoyed a quiet but productive training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. He said he has had no trouble learning the team’s new offense, which is led by coordinator Mike Tice and aided by quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates.
“I’m excited to get out there and see what our offense as a whole can do,” Forte said. “I know in the preseason, the playbook is pretty limited – we don’t want to show everything – but it will be fun to get out there and play ball with all the new receivers and the tight ends and everybody.”
As the centerpiece of ex-coordinator Mike Martz’s offense, Forte received heavy workloads during the past two seasons. He averaged 16.9 carries and 4.3 receptions a game in 12 contests last season while tallying 1,487 yards from scrimmage.
In Tice’s offense, it’s possible that Forte’s rushing attempts could increase while his receptions decrease. The Bears want to do everything possible to protect Cutler, who now has a pair of big-bodied targets in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
“This year, it’s more protect the quarterback first,” Forte said. “So if I’m called into protection, I’m not trying to get out as fast. Right now, it’s block everybody else so that Jay can have some time and look downfield and let the receivers do their work.”
But as Forte’s long reception during practice showed, the Bears will not abandon the running back’s role in the passing game. He caught 52 passes for 490 yards last season, and he could have approached 70 receptions if not for an injury in Week 13.
Bates said the coaching staff would find a way to feature Forte’s receiving skills.
“I think he’s going to fit,” Bates said. “That’s part of the coaching staff’s [job]. We have to have all of our stud athletes, all of our stud players, fit in the offense, and if we have to change some things, we will.”
Forte isn’t picky, so long as the Bears find success.
“I don’t care whether it’s running the ball or catching it,” Forte said. “If we’re making explosive plays out there, it’s obvious we’re going to move the ball down the field and we’re going to score points, and that’s what wins games.”