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Loss of rookie fullback could hamper Bears’ rushing attack

Short-handed in ground game

Published: Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 12:08 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

LAKE FOREST – The good news: Matt Forte ran without difficulty during the Bears’ practice Saturday.

The bad news: Evan Rodriguez stood still on the sidelines.

Perhaps the comparison seems ridiculous. Forte is a Pro Bowl running back who has averaged 103.5 yards from scrimmage in 62 games. Rodriguez is a little-known rookie fullback who has played 38 snaps without touching the ball on offense.

But the absence of Rodriguez as a lead blocker could affect the production of Forte.

Forte took part in limited drills for a third consecutive day as he practiced in shorts and shoulder pads along with his teammates at Halas Hall. He was listed as questionable on the Bears’ injury report, but he showed no signs of a lingering injury as he ran and caught passes from Jay Cutler during the portion of practice that was open to members of the news media.

“He looks good to me,” Bears running back coach Tim Spencer said.

After missing the fifth game of his career in Week 3, Forte said this week that he expected to return Monday against the Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s real big, especially [for] me,” Forte said. “I’ve missed a game. So it’s real big to get in sync with the running game, as well as the passing game, so we can help the defense out. The defense has been playing lights out. We need to put a lot of points on the board so they can at least rest a little bit and continue to play good.”

The Bears’ offense will have to do so without Rodriguez, who was ruled out for Monday’s game because of a knee injury that he suffered in Week 3 against St. Louis.

Rodriguez played 21 snaps in the season opener, which accounted for 28 percent of the Bears’ plays on offense. He played 12 snaps (20 percent) against Green Bay in Week 2, but he was limited to five plays (7 percent) against St. Louis before exiting the game at halftime.

After Rodriguez left the game, the Bears’ rushing offense stalled. They tallied 15 carries for 26 yards in the second half after notching 19 carries for 77 yards in the first half.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said Rodriguez’s injury caused problems.

“We ran the ball good in the first half, then we were strictly single-back wing [without a fullback as a lead blocker]; it takes away from things,” Tice said. “So, you have to massage that a little bit and come up with some other ways to run the football, as opposed to always being in single-back wing, or single back [with] two tight ends on the edge.”

When Rodriguez is healthy, his value is apparent. In the first quarter of his NFL debut, Rodriguez delivered a block to help spring Forte for a 32-yard gain past midfield. Eight plays later, Michael Bush scored on a 1-yard run to mark the Bears’ first touchdown of the season en route to a season-opening win against the Colts.

Now, the Bears must find a way to make big gains on the ground without Rodriguez.

“Evan, we moved and put a 40 number on because we felt like he could play on the line of scrimmage and play in the backfield,” Tice said. “We know he had a couple of good games and some good plays. When you lose a guy like that, we take a step backward in that area.

“We have to come up with other ways to run other plays.”

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV: ESPN

Line: Cowboys by 3˝

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