Rookie Matt Forte, who rushed for 2,127 yards last season at Tulane, is expected to be the focal point of the ground game, a role Bears coaches may have envisioned even before Cedric Benson's release following two alcohol-related arrests in a five-week span.
"We liked [Forte] coming in," Smith said. "He hasn't disappointed us at all. We feel real good about where he is. I feel like he'll meet the challenge."
Forte will have to live up to expectations for the Bears to bounce back from last season's 7-9 Super Bowl hangover to a playoff team. They're coming off a last-place finish in the NFC North, just as they were after Smith's 5-11 rookie season of 2004. The following year, the Bears reversed their record to 11-5 and made the playoffs.
"We've been in this situation before, so it's not new to us," Smith said. "We've been in last place and we've climbed that mountain, so that's the message. It's always good to be the underdog. Right now, most people are counting us out. We like that position."
The Bears are not in an ideal situation at quarterback. Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton are jousting for the starting job. If that battle continues throughout the preseason, it could negatively impact continuity within the offense, which will have different starters at both wide receiver positions and is expected to have different starters at three of the five offensive line spots.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said the quarterback competition remains even and hopes the competition elevates the performance of both players.
"Right now, it's highly competitive," Turner said. "I think both guys are stepping up to the challenge and stepping up to the opportunity. I see a great focus in both of them. They've both been in the system for a while, so they should have much better knowledge and a much better feel for it and that's showing on the field."
When training camp practices begin on July 23, the coaching staff will get a better idea of which quarterback will lead the offense.
"I'm anxious to get into camp when we have pads on and everything else picks up a little bit," Turner said. "Then you get into some preseason games to see how they are going to respond."
News & Notes
Whether they want to admit it or not, the Bears face a major rebuilding project for 2008 – at least on offense, where they had one of the league's worst running attacks in 2007 and the No. 28 offense overall.
QB Kyle Orton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
They don't know who the starting quarterback will be. The battle between oft-injured incumbent Rex Grossman and challenger Kyle Orton, who has thrown just 80 regular-season passes in the past two years, could last well into the preseason.
”It's an open competition," head coach Lovie Smith said. "It's not like we promised Rex a starting position."
Marty Booker caught 197 passes for 2,260 yards for the Bears in back-to-back seasons, but that was six years ago. The feeling is that he can still be the main man, and on this team he may have to be since there are no proven producers behind him. Booker caught 50 passes last season in the Dolphins' dysfunctional offense, so he still has some has left in the tank. ...
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said the evaluation process of quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton will continue throughout training camp as they battle for the starting job.
"We'll continue with what we did during the offseason, which is one guy goes with the ones one day and the other guy goes with the ones the next day," Turner said. "We'll chart everything and see how many reps they're getting with the ones, with the twos, in 7-on-7, blitz, two-minute – all the different situations that come up. The good thing about training camp is we'll have pads on, so now it's a little bit different once the pads are on and you get going."
Quote to Note
"The most difficult thing to do in this business is to do contract extensions. It's a very, very difficult to do. You don't see many. I think our track record speaks pretty well as far as getting those things accomplished in the offseason, not just this year but in years past." – General manager Jerry Angelo, who got contract extensions done in the offseason for Tommie Harris, Alex Brown, Desmond Clark, Robbie Gould and Kyle Orton but hasn't been able yet to work out extensions for Brian Urlacher or Devin Hester.
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