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Forte injury may slow Bears’ progress

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Injuries have slowed progress in a rebuilding season for the Chicago Bears to a complete crawl, and until now the one constant had been running back Matt Forte.

It appears now even Forte will miss time due to a knee injury.

Coach John Fox on Monday confirmed the veteran running back will be back at some point this season after a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. However, he’ll be out for an unspecified number of games.

Also suffering a knee injury in the 23-20 defeat was wide receiver Eddie Royal, who had been hoping to face his former team, the San Diego Chargers, on Monday Night Football.

“I think the feeling right now is, not exact, because we’re not done with it, I don’t see it being season-ending on either one,” Fox said, adding neither injury involved an ACL tear or surgery.

Quarterback Jay Cutler, the offensive line, the wide receivers, the defensive line, linebackers and secondary all had previously been hit with injuries. It only adds to the confusion while players try to get the entire system down in the first season under Fox.

“You get new people, you’re training players at positions, whether it’s been acquisitions off people’s practice squads or bringing in new people, regardless of the position,” Fox said. “There’s a trickle-down effect, whether it’s on offense or defense or special teams.

“It makes it a little more challenging. But nobody rescues you; you just make do with what you have.”

For Forte, the injury is all the more damaging because his contract expires after this season. There had been unconfirmed reports he would be available to teams for the right deal, but if there had been any chance for a trade, the injury would seem to end it.

Now the Bears will go forward in the foreseeable future with rookie Jeremy Langford, who had a steady effort during the second half in place of Forte but had a key dropped pass on third down that could have extended a drive toward the game-winning score.

Cutler had a few words with Langford after the drop.

“He’s going to be a heck of a player for us,” Cutler said. “I told him that one play doesn’t win or lose a football game — I don’t care what game it is, and that one didn’t win or lose our game.”

Fox tried to bolster Langford’s confidence, as well.

“I like his football character,” he said. “It’s not too big for him. He’s very willing. So his mindset is to learn. I think Stan Drayton, his position coach, has done a tremendous job with him.

“And a lot of it is he’s very receptive. I call it football character. He picks things up very well for a young player.”

It’s not running the ball where the Bears are most concerned about Langford. They do view him as a capable pass blocker and receiver.

“In the NFL the game’s different than college football, particularly in the passing game,” Fox said. “They’re not just handing off to him. 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.”

The injury situation on the offensive line appears more dire than at running back.

Against Minnesota, not one offensive line position was manned by the player who filled that starting spot when preseason ended.

Charles Leno Jr. continued playing for injured Jermon Bushrod (shoulder). Matt Slauson moved from left guard to center following a mid-week neck injury in practice to center Hroniss Grasu. That mean Vladimir Ducasse moved from right guard to left, and Patrick Omameh played right guard.

“I think we’ve had to make adjustments,” Fox said. “It’s a credit to the players involved and the coaches involved to be able to execute decent enough. I think we’ve got room for improvement, no question.”

Kyle Long, at right tackle, at least started the season at his spot although he played guard throughout all of preseason.

Long thought one way to get the offensive line working together well to help the offense was to run the ball more.

“I know if you’d ask us, we’d run it 100 percent of the time,” he said. “Nobody wants to try to pass block those guys, or anyone in the NFL. We feel like we can run the ball against people.

“Sometimes it doesn’t start as quickly as you’d like it to. But things loosen up up front, and you’re able to get some movement.”

If the Bears hope to run the ball in the near future, though, it will be Langford or Ka’Deem Carey doing it.

REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B. Jay Cutler remained efficient, avoiding interceptions and recording a 94.4 passer rating, his second highest of the year. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery flashed his jump-ball skills with a 21-yard touchdown catch. Tight end Martellus Bennett was held to three catches, and wide receiver Marquess Wilson did almost nothing, with one 14-yard catch when targeted three times. When Matt Forte went out of the game with a knee injury, the passing game became greatly limited. Considering Minnesota’s strong front on defense, the makeshift offensive line assembled after center Hroniss Grasu’s neck injury performed admirably. Cutler avoided a sack until taking a 3-yarder late.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C. Matt Forte gained just 41 yards before suffering his knee injury, and Jeremy Langford produced 46 yards and a 3.8-yard average, but the running game was inconsistent. The yardage total was their most in three games, but the inconsistency largely is due to changing lines. Not one offensive lineman was starting Sunday at the position he started at prior to the first game of the regular season, so it was a true offensive line facelift.

–PASS DEFENSE: C. The 187 passing yards by Teddy Bridgewater look solid to outstanding for the Bears’ defense, but the secondary caved in at the worst possible time after locking it down for three quarters. Safety Antrel Rolle gave up the pass completion to give Minnesota its game-winning field goal, and cornerback Sherrick McManis looked completely lost stumbling around while trying to stop Stefon Diggs on the game-tying TD catch. If McManis had just played off Diggs to let him make the catch and turn, he’d have had an easy tackle. It was a surprising play considering McManis’ strength has been playing special-teams coverage and making open-field tackles.

–RUSH DEFENSE: C. Trying to stop Adrian Peterson is a chore, and the best contribution the run defense made was not letting him get a true breakaway run. Peterson had no runs longer than 12 yards. No Viking had a run longer than 19 yards. Still, a 5.9-yard average and 147 total rushing yards aren’t statistics that win a lot of games. Losing Jeremiah Ratliff and Ego Ferguson no doubt hurt the defensive front. The Bears continue to play without linebacker Shea McClellin (knee), who was responsible for keeping the defense properly lined up.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: F. Chaos reigns here as it has all season. The second-worst kick coverage team had given up two TD returns earlier this year, and now it’s the punt-coverage team chipping in by allowing a 65-yard TD return. Two muffed punts early by Marc Mariani drew catcalls from the stands every time he tried field a punt after this. He lucked out when the ball went out of bounds and the Bears never lost possession. Even Robbie Gould, who made a 55-yard field goal to start the scoring, missed a critical 51-yard try into the wind that would have supplied enough points for overtime.

–COACHING: C plus. The offense made a necessary adjustment and started going downfield more in the second half after being far too conservative in the passing game the first half, possibly fearing the patchwork offensive line couldn’t protect Cutler. The defensive approach showed the right amount of blitzing. Fox made the right call and showed guts by going for the first down on the go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter when they were on the edge of Gould’s field-goal range.


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