Jeremy Langford is not Matt Forte — duh — but could be just as crowd-pleasing.
“Langford’s a guy who can pick and choose from different guys’ repertoires,” tackle Kyle Long said Tuesday at Halas Hall. “He’s a guy who can run very hard downhill with surprising burst that you see on film. Once he gets through the line, he can just shoot out there.
“So I think from a linear standpoint, you’ll see a guy who’s running downhill, and I think Bears fans will like it. I know I like the guy a lot. He runs hard, and he’s a tough kid.”
And he’s untested. That’s clear even before you compare the rookie to Forte, who suffered a right knee injury against the Vikings.
Langford, his anointed replacement for Monday night’s game in San Diego, has 27 carries for a so-so 80 yards and two catches for 31 yards this season.
“He’s a guy who’s had a lot of success in his career, collegiately, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be able to translate to the NFL level,” Long said. “Especially if we stick to our game plan.”
In a league that devalues running backs, particularly aging ones — Forte, 29, is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason for that very reason — it’s easy to characterize the position as plug-and-play. But it’s not, particularly given Forte’s versatility.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has flexed Forte wide as a receiver and put him at quarterback in a wildcat formation. Can he do the same with Langford? Will he?
“In the NFL, the game’s different than college football, particularly in the passing game,” coach John Fox said. “They’re not just handing off to (Langford). The protection element, routes, sometimes some of the things you see are a little bit more exotic.
“So he’s adapted to that very well as a rookie coming in from college to the NFL.”
Unless the Bears add a veteran this week — bust Montee Ball at least knows Gase’s scheme from Denver — they don’ have many other options. Of the four other running backs inside Halas Hall, Ka’Deem Carey has the most career NFL carries, 36, though he hasn’t touched the ball this season.
Antone Smith, who has 29, is digesting the Bears’ offense three weeks after his signing. Practice squadder Paul Lasike, a Kiwi who grew up on rugby, didn’t learn the sport until college.
Or, to put it more simply: Forte has 44 more carries this season alone than the four men behind him have in their lifetime.
Fox wouldn’t specify the length Forte’s convalescence Monday, other than to say he would neither need surgery nor miss the rest of the season. Maybe the most respected player in the locker room, Forte Tweeted on Tuesday the injury was “just another challenge I will overcome” and asked his followers to send him inspirational quotes.
“He’s a leader,” linebacker Sam Acho said. “He’s a guy you hear about when you play in the NFL — you hear about this guy, his character.”
The Bears will miss that next year if Langford’s stint as the starter proves to be preview of life without Forte.
They’ll miss it Monday, too — though they know Langford is capable of going as far as his blockers will take him.
Sunday, three linemen made their first starts with the Bears at their particular position. Matt Slauson, who made his first career start at center, could slide back to left guard if rookie Hroniss Grasu’s neck injury improves this week.
“I know you guys are sick of hearing this, but we are very close on a lot of these plays to having home run plays,” Long said. “Being able to stack those explosive runs together, which would be very good for our offense.”
And for the new guy running the ball.
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