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Starting the #SaveForte campaign

Bears running back Matt Forte scores a touchdown during Sunday night's game in Pittsburgh. Preserving Forte will be one of the keys to the Bears' long-term success this season.
Bears running back Matt Forte scores a touchdown during Sunday night's game in Pittsburgh. Preserving Forte will be one of the keys to the Bears' long-term success this season.

LAKE FOREST – You are 16 years old. You pay $500 for a used 1987 Honda Accord, the kind with the flip-up headlights.

You drive it too hard, too fast, for too many miles.

You hear a pop in the engine. You see smoke. You no longer have a 1987 Honda Accord.

Fast forward to the next century. Instead of four-door sedans, the subject is two-legged running backs. And this time, the person behind the wheel is Bears coach Marc Trestman.

See where I’m going with this one?


At 3-0, the new-look Bears could be going places this season. But they’re probably not going anywhere if they endure long-term injuries to their top playmakers on offense, which is a short list that includes Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall.

Trestman’s consistent emphasis on protecting Cutler from hits has made perfect sense. Yet the Bears have leaned hard – really hard – on Forte, who has notched 73 touches (55 carries, 18 receptions) through the first 3 weeks of the season.

That’s an average of 24.3 touches per game, which would mark a career high for Forte. His only previous two seasons with 20-plus touches were as a rookie in 2008 (which he followed with a sophomore slump in 2009 in which he never was fully healthy) and as Mike Martz’s favorite toy in 2011 (which ended with a sprained MCL in Week 13).

Maybe you remember that injury to Forte, which accelerated the Bears’ late-season skid. Maybe you flashed back to that painful memory when Forte limped off of the field Sunday in Pittsburgh and needed to have his left ankle heavily taped before returning.

Give Trestman credit for recognizing the need to pump the brakes on Forte and to find more playing time for Michael Bush, a veteran running back who has proved in six NFL seasons that he can be much more than a goal-line brute.

So far, Bush has averaged 5.3 touches per game, almost all of which in short yardage.

“We’ve got to have Matt for the long haul, so we’re going to continually try to work Michael in,” Trestman said this week at Halas Hall. “He’s practicing well. We look at him as a starter in his own right. We’ve got to continue to work at that.

“It’s just hard to take Matt off the field, as I’m sure everybody can understand.”

Yes, it’s understandable.

But Trestman and the Bears will not be remembered for what they do in September. Rather, how we judge them will depend on what happens – or doesn’t happen – when playoff time arrives in the first few weeks of 2014.

Bush said Wednesday his legs felt fresh and he would be ready whenever called upon.

“I’m good,” Bush said. “But whatever we game plan, that’s what I look forward to.”

OK, OK. Say the right things, be a good teammate, I get it.

But Bush could envision a bigger role for himself in the offense, yeah?

“Everybody wants a bigger role, you know?” Bush said. “But Matt is doing a great job right now, so just let him keep rolling.”

As long as he’s not rolling his ankle.

Predictably, Forte has no problem with having the ball in his hands as much as possible.

“I’ve got to be in shape to be in this offense,” Forte said after a recent practice. “If you want to run the ball and be involved in the passing game, you’ve got to be in shape. ...

“It doesn’t really matter if I’ve got like 30 touches a game or 20-something, I don’t really see myself getting worn down.”

But it can happen.

Besides, this season might not be limited to 16 games.

It could be 17. It could be 18. It could be…

Bush politely cut me off. He knew where I was going.

“Playoffs, yeah,” he said with a smile. “But it’s too soon. We’ve got to stay on course.”

And not drive too hard, too fast, for too many miles.

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