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Bears beef up backfield, add veteran Chester Taylor to give some punch to Matt Forte

Many running backs would be a little anxious if their team signed another proven back during free agency.

Not Matt Forte. The Chicago Bears back has welcomed the addition of former Minnesota Vikings back Chester Taylor as needed relief, the kind he could have used during a forgettable 2009 season.

"He's a good guy and easy to get along with, and he's a good running back," Forte said. "So when he comes in there's no really drop-off in talent."

Last year, Forte suffered a knee ligament sprain in Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks after getting over an offseason hamstring pull that had slowed him in preseason. Forte said little publicly about the injury, and continued carrying the ball on the way to a disappointing 929 yards and 3.6 yards-per-carry average.

"You have to play through injuries," Forte said. "This is the NFL. People get injured."

Forte didn't merely play through the injury. He finished his first two seasons with 694 combined carries and receptions, a team record. Now Forte acknowledges the 309-yard drop in rushing from his 1,238-yard rookie season had a great deal to do with the knee injury, which required offseason arthroscopic surgery to repair.

"When you can't make the type of cuts that you want to and burst, that really hampers your running style," Forte said. "And with my running style, there are a lot of power cuts and acceleration. Once your acceleration is down, your level is not going to be where you want it to be."

Coach Lovie Smith says he sees the 2008 healthy, faster version of Forte this year.

"You want to play at your best, but a running back in the league carrying the ball as many times as the Chicago Bears tailback will carry, you need to be in tiptop shape," Smith said. "He's there, he's focused. He's put himself in a position where he deserves to have a good year by the way he has worked."

Having Taylor could help keep Forte from bearing too much of the offensive burden.

"It works for Matt because Matt wants to be the best and he's got somebody pushing him, trying to take some of his reps so he's going to push," running backs coach Tim Spencer said. "And Chester wants to gets reps, he deserves to get reps so it's a good, healthy competition."

Taylor saw Chicago as an ideal location for his talents because of the way new offensive coordinator Mike Martz deploys running backs.

"They use the running back a lot more in the passing game," Taylor said. "I really like catching the ball out of the backfield. That's one of my specialties."

Taylor, who has averaged 4.3 yards per carry over eight seasons, has made 29 catches or more the last six seasons. His versatile playing style is much like Forte's.

"It's rare when you can get two guys on the same team with that ability to come out of the backfield," Spencer said.

With the exception of 2006 in Minnesota, Taylor has always been behind another top back. Adrian Peterson came to Minnesota in 2007 to take away carries from Taylor, and in Baltimore he played in Jamal Lewis' shadows.

This has never bothered Taylor.

"It's a long season," Taylor said. "We've got 16 games and the playoffs. You need that because running backs go down every now and then. So we need depth at running back."