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Piling on holdout RB Matt Forte might backfire on Bears

Michael Bush

Michael Bush

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Updated: July 15, 2012 3:31PM

Give Lovie Smith this: He’s smarter than your average Bear.

While the team seems hell bent on alienating Matt Forte, Smith went out of his way Wednesday to stress that the Bears have not fallen out of love with their star running back. You might have gotten that impression had you listened to or read the hosannas that coaches, players and media have ladled out about backup Michael Bush.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune used a quote from offensive coordinator Mike Tice — “We Love Michael Bush’’ — in a headline the size of which hasn’t been seen since Apollo 11.

“I think Matt Forte feels pretty good about us loving him also and liking him and all of that too,’’ Smith said after Wednesday’s minicamp workout.

“It’s a good thing when you have a new player coming in and people already like him. Michael Bush will give us help for the tailback position, but we expect Matt Forte to be liked quite a bit around here also.’’

It’s one thing to stand your ground in a contract dispute, which the team justifiably is doing with its Pro Bowl running back. It’s another to borrow from a high school coach’s bag of psychological tricks in a silly attempt to make him worry about his job status.

The organization seems to think Forte has the mental capacity of a tackling dummy.

The Bears have been gushing about Bush and his 3.8 yards per carry. A conspiracy theorist would suggest it goes hand in hand with recent reports casting doubt about the health of Forte’s knees. The idea seems to be that upon hearing all of it, Forte will come running back to them like, well, a running back.

None of this is necessary. The Bears are on solid footing with their opinion of Forte’s worth. Running backs tend to break down after 25. Forte is 26. The Bears offered him a nice multiyear contract last year, but he turned it down, believing he was worth what the NFL’s elite running backs were making. The Bears placed the franchise tag on him this year, which means he’ll make $7.7 million in 2012 if he plays.

The Bears are walking a fine line. They know they need him to get where they want to go in 2012 — the Super Bowl. They might be able to survive with Bush as their running back, but they won’t prosper the way they would with Forte.

Forte isn’t happy about the tag and isn’t taking part in the Bears’ minicamp. That’s his right, just as it’s their right to tag him. But the pressure tactics could backfire. If the Bears are hoping to add an angry, offended player to the roster, they’re likely to have one when Forte comes back. And they’ll be able to blame themselves for it.

Forte sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee last season and sat out the last four games. He likely would have come back if the Bears were chasing a playoff berth. He played in the Pro Bowl after the season. His knee appears to be fine, or as fine as any running back’s knee can be after four years in the league. But the Bears apparently won’t mind if you believe something else.

Why isn’t it enough for the team to feel good about its stance? Why try to make Forte feel insecure? Why play games that don’t involve a football?

If Tice had made “We ♥ Michael Bush’’ buttons and distributed them at the minicamp, no one would have been surprised. But Bush is not nearly as good as Forte. Forte knows this, and nothing that Tice or anyone else says will change that simple fact.

The last three versions of Michael Bush were Marion Barber, Chester Taylor and Kevin Jones. How did they work out?

When Jay Cutler raved about Bush on Tuesday, it was a teammate doing what teammates do at minicamps. Remember, Cutler was the one who gushed about former offensive coordinator Mike Martz when Martz first arrived. Cutler is prone to gushing.

But lumped together, all of this looks bad. It looks like people piling on Forte.

If Smith truly cares about running back, he’ll tell the rest of the organization to knock it off. It does nothing in the short run except to drip more poison into the mix. In the long run, it could cut down on the team’s long runs.

Time to Bear down and wise up.

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