Behind 2012 Matt Forte? Look for Bell, not Barber

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Behind 2012 Matt Forte? Look for Bell, not Barber

A mild surprise of sorts unfolded in Green Bay when Kahlil Bell ran for 121 yards and vaulted himself squarely into the No. 2 running back spot going into next offseason.

A second, bigger surprise will play out next Sunday if Marion Barber is active in Minnesota.

A third, major jaw-dropper will come in January or possibly February if Barber is still a Bear.

Barber was inactive Sunday because of a calf injury, the same type of problem that caused him to miss the fourth preseason and first three regular-season games. And Barber missed three games in 2010 with a calf injury.

Quoting James Bond, Once is chance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action.

Its a concern always when a player has missed time, and not just one year, said coach Lovie Smith. Hes been a player thats been injured quite a bit. We always look at the history. So that is a factor in determining players on your roster, what position he has and all of that.

Barber is due to make 1.9 million in 2012, the second year of his two-year contract, and he is expected to go the way of Chester Taylor, Barbers highly paid predecessor.

Bell, who just turned 25 this month, is the reason Barber, who turns 29 in June, is expendable. Bell is a restricted free agent after this season and is playing his way into an upper-level tender offer that would ensure the Bears the right to match an offer to him or receive compensation. The money may not be significantly less than Barbers deal but the production, versatility and dependability are better.

He does have to hold onto the ball, but he made excellent cuts in the open field, ran with power, caught the ball out of the backfield, Smith said. Everything you want a good running back in the NFL to do, he did, on a national stage. You have to feel good about what he did in his first time as the bell cow

Based on what hes done his entire time here you would feel comfortable with him as the No. 2 running back.

Bell isnt. Which is exactly the attitude coaches want.

Im not interested in that, Bell said. I never woke in the morning and said Im going out there to be the No. 2 running back on any team that Ive ever been on. My goal is to be a starter in this league, and thats what Im shooting for. Im not settling for anything less.

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Both teams are on track to be drafting in the top five, and the inevitable “the loser is the winner” talk has made its rounds, meaning that a defeat moves the loser higher in the draft order. The reality is that neither team will tank the game for draft position.

But the chances of two woeful teams playing well are slim. The 49ers won in Week 1 and then have lost 10 straight. The Bears are trying to avoid losing four straight for the first time under John Fox.

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Quarterback Colin Kaepernick burst upon the NFL scene in 2012 with a blowout of the Bears in his first start. He has regained his starting job in San Francisco and is still one of the prototypical mobile quarterbacks.

But the 49ers are the NFL’s worst defense in both points and yardage allowed, and they are the worst rushing defense in the league. Expect the Bears to try exploiting that and give quarterback Matt Barkley a balanced run-pass game plan.

Prediction: Bears 24, 49ers 20

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Kyle Fuller was one of the seeming fixtures in the Bears’ defense as it transitioned from the 4-3 of old to the 3-4 of Vic Fangio. And he may be again, the Bears hope very soon, as he has begun practicing after months on injured reserve following knee surgery in August.

The Bears could place Fuller on the active roster as late as Saturday after he practiced all three days this week. “He made it three days in practice, no setbacks,” said coach John Fox. “He seems to be adapting pretty well. He has another practice [Saturday] and we don’t have to make a decision until 3 p.m. because of where he is on the roster. We’ll evaluate that after tomorrow.”

Were Fuller to return — restoring one projected 2016 starter to a defense that has been forced to field five different starting secondaries in the span of 11 games — he may be phased back in with a managed number of snaps, as other certain other players returning from injury have been.

But getting Fuller back projects to be an instant upgrade for a defensive backfield among the NFL’s worst at producing takeaways.

“We all play different positions so we’re kind of used to it, people moving in and out over the year,” said Bryce Callahan, who was initially ticketed for nickel duty as the No. 3 cornerback this season but has been pressed into service starting at cornerback in four games.

“It’s always good to get someone like Kyle back.”

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The Bears would need to weigh what workload Fuller could handle vs. roster needs based on only having 46 players active on game day.

“You’re always a little bit cautious because it does affect your roster,” Fox said. “But if you feel like he makes you better, that’s a move you make. Now we’re just working through him medically, durability-wise, and how much he can play.”

Jay Cutler (shoulder) was officially declared out and is headed for surgery on Saturday, ultimately to injured reserve.

Other availability questions include receiver Eddie Royal (toe), guard Josh Sitton (ankle) and safety Adrian Amos (ankle), all questionable. Linebacker Willie Young (knee) did not practice but linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to practice on a limited basis although his status in the concussion protocol will not be known until closer to game time.