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Bears have offensive stars returning, but still seek backup plan

Updated: March 28, 2014 8:55PM



ORLANDO, Fla. — To emphasize his point, Bears coach Marc Trestman shrugged, smiled and motioned with his hands.

“It’s hard to find a Matt Forte skill set,” Trestman said of his Pro Bowl running back this week during the NFL owners meetings.

Trestman was answering a question about what he looks for in a backup running back. Second-year pro Michael Ford is the Bears’ backup after veteran Michael Bush was released this month.

It’s one of several questions that linger for Trestman’s offense. Fretting over who backs up who might seem frivolous, considering every starter is returning from last year’s record-setting offense.

But the unit was blessed with good health last season. Quarterback Jay Cutler was the only offensive starter to miss an extended amount of time, and Josh McCown’s performance in his place (not to mention the defense’s demise after all its injuries) shows that having quality backups is essential.

So, for all the defensive changes afoot for the Bears, Trestman still has to work out his offensive depth chart. Backups at running back and quarterback, a swing tackle (with Eben Britton still unsigned), Nos. 3 and 4 receivers and another pass-catching tight end need to emerge.

During the NFC coaches breakfast at the owners meetings, Trestman made sure to note the importance of keeping Cutler and Forte healthy, saying he wants to get Cutler “through the season safely” while wanting to “extend [Forte’s] career.”

Behind Cutler and Forte, the Bears have two unproven players. The team might have faith in quarterback Jordan Palmer (15 career passing attempts) and Ford (an undrafted free agent out of LSU last year), but competition still will be added.

When it comes to his backup quarterback, Trestman went through a list of sought-after criteria, starting with “his ability to play the game if the No. 1 guy is hurt” but also being “extremely good in the meeting room.”

McCown, of course, embodied everything the Bears could dream up, but Trestman said Palmer has similar attributes on and off the field.

“No question Jordan fit that,” Trestman said. “He got better at it along the way. He was very quiet at first [and] kind of took it all in.

“But the quarterbacks respected him immediately because he went to work on his own to learn the offense.”

As for Ford, who also will compete at kick returner, Trestman highlighted his pass-catching abilities. The main concern is whether he can be a capable pass blocker.

“It’s very difficult to put a guy out on the field who is deficient in protecting because that puts the quarterback at risk,” Trestman said. “He’s got to have the want-to to do that, and then he’s got to have the skill set to do that. Michael has that ability. He’s physically capable of doing that.”

More will be learned by the time the Bears’ organized team activities get going in May. But regardless of who fills out his offensive depth chart, Trestman’s expectations have gone way up.

“Everything we did offensively,” Trestman said, “we think that we can do better.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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