Bears backups battle to be part of RB ‘wave’
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BOURBONNAIS — Bored at home May 2, running back Ka’Deem Carey flipped on the television just in time to see the Bears make their fourth-round pick.
“Next thing you know: ‘Running back, Chicago Bears,’” the second-year player said. “I was like, ‘Did they release me?’”
After his initial panic, Carey said, he accepted the hard truth: that competition — from draftee Jeremy Langford and others — is only going to make the Bears better.
The team hopes so. For the first time in years, it is trying to create a stable of running backs behind starter Matt Forte.
“It’s a race for the No. 2 spot,” running back Senorise Perry said.
Under Marc Trestman, two spots would have been the limit. In both years in Chicago, he had only had two running backs carry the ball all season long.
In 2013, Michael Bush, Forte’s backup, had 63 carries for 197 yards.
Last year, Carey gained 158 yards on 36 rushes. He ran 14 times for 72 yards in Week 4. In the final eight weeks, though, he totaled only eight carries.
“I was sitting there, cold,” Carey said. “Just wondering what’s going on.”
By contrast, coach John Fox has vowed to create a “wave” of running backs in a system that will emphasize the ground game.
“I think that stable of backs we have is very impressive,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said.
Forte joked that the Bears have brought in backups before — “We can all name them,” he said — but that the five new reserve candidates have distinct skills.
“It’s always a good thing to have a different style of running back,” Forte said. “Because if you have a chance when other guys get in, it changes the pace up.
“There are guys that do different stuff well. You kinda cater to those talents.”
Langford, who trained with Forte in the offseason, might be having the best training camp of the bunch. The former Michigan State star flashes his speed on outside runs and special teams, where he could play on four units. His “route-running ability is rare,” Gase said.
Carey was a college workhorse — he had 652 carries his last two years at Arizona, dwarfing Langford’s yeoman 568 — who didn’t play special teams regularly as a rookie. Perry was the opposite, logging 258 special teams snaps last year.
Jacquizz Rodgers, signed away from the Falcons, is a bowling ball runner and fantastic pass blocker despite his 5-6 frame.
“We’re together and for each other,” Rodgers said, “but it’s also a competition.”
Also in his fifth season, one-time Dolphins disappointment Daniel Thomas also prides himself on short-yardage runs.
“We all have our strengths,” Thomas said. “As a group, I couldn’t ask for a better running back group.”
The younger players have picked Forte’s brain. What goes unspoken is that one could start next year if the Bears let him leave via free agency. Forte said it’s his responsibility, nonetheless, to lead by example.
“I had guys ahead of me that did that type of thing,” he said. “You notice it, the difference between a guy who’s a professional and a guy that’s kinda like a knucklehead.”
Forte’s still the focal point of the run game, wave or not.
“I think everybody forgets how good of a running back he is,” Gase said. “He’s just not here to catch the ball. He can run downhill, he can be outside, gap scheme — the guy’s got the whole thing.”
But who’s No. 2? Fox said he won’t be able to tell until preseason games start, and the running backs’ personalities shine against live tackling.
“We got a strong, healthy, talented group out there,” Carey said. “So when you win the second spot, you really know that you’re a pretty good back in this league — behind Forte.”
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