Matt Forte expects to be more than the last-resort receiver for quarterback Jay Cutler this season.
Though Chicago brought in an additional option in tight end Martellus Bennett, it's the veteran running back who may prove critical to the Bears' success. Forte always played a big role in the passing attack until last season. In coach Marc Trestman's new offense, Forte expects a return to the old days.
"It's not really a new role," Forte said. "It's not like I haven't done it before. I'm just excited about getting back to getting out of the backfield and running routes and stuff and catching balls and not only just running the ball, getting handoffs, but getting the ball out in space, just spreading the ball around."
Forte had his fewest yards receiving (340) and fewest catches (44) last year when the only target Cutler could repeatedly find was Brandon Marshall. Former offensive coordinator Mike Tice brought Forte inside to use as a blocker as the offensive line struggled to protect Cutler.
Trestman has a history of using running backs as receiving options.
In 1995, Trestman used little-known Derek Loville for 87 receptions with the San Francisco 49ers, second on the team only to Jerry Rice. Charlie Garner caught 91 passes for 941 yards in 2002 in Trestman's offense with the Oakland Raiders. Even in Canada, Trestman used backs for receptions. Brandon Whitaker had 121 catches over two seasons for Montreal.
Trestman sees Forte as entirely capable in this multi-threat role.
"He's at the top of everything," Trestman said. "He's got a variety of positions to play and responsibilities. He's a blocker, a runner and a catcher, so he's got a lot to do."
The idea is to get Forte out in the open field more so he can utilize his moves and speed. Forte knows now why Trestman's offense is often said to use the passing game as the running game.
"It's a different way of actually kind of like running the ball," he said. "After you catch it, you've got to run with it. So instead of handing it off, you get the ball out in space and that just gives you more opportunity to make big plays."
The running back/passing offense influence in Chicago is even greater with Aaron Kromer as offensive coordinator. He was with the New Orleans Saints when Darren Sproles caught 86 and 75 passes.
"Matt Forte, you can't appreciate him until you work with him every day," Kromer said. "Coming out of college we really wanted to draft him with the last team I was on. So I'm glad to join him at this point. Matt is very talented. He's strong, physical and patient. And he's fast, which is an odd combination."
All this has triggered talk the Bears could have the second back ever to gain 1,000 yards rushing and catch 100 passes. Ladainian Tomlinson was the first (2003).
"Every year, at least, bare minimum 1,000 yards rushing," he said. "I know whatever comes after that, catching the ball and all that stuff, will come after that."
Considering Marshall got the ball so often last year, setting Bears records for receptions (118) and receiving yards (1,508), Forte is going to be taking some of the touches away from Cutler's good friend and longtime teammate both in Chicago and Denver.
"I bet he doesn't mind," Forte said of Marshall. "He probably prefers that we all share the load of the offense. I think if we do it that way, and they can't just only harp on one thing, you can get a defense on their heels and they don't know what's coming next, whether it's the running game or spreading the ball around with me, Alshon (Jeffery), Brandon, Martellus and Earl (Bennett) in the slot."