Maybe it’s a sign.
During the week’s organized team activities, wide receiver Brandon Marshall is on hand but not participating, giving offseason hip repair some added time to heal.
Meanwhile, and without giving away any competitive information, the football is winding up in other hands, like Matt Forte’s and others. Exactly who gets it, where and how will be something for the Packers, Lions, Vikings and others to figure out when the time comes.
Marshall will not be sitting out when it matters. But one of the intriguing story lines of the season may be how Marshall responds to diminished football traffic in his direction, because that clearly is indirectly part of the plan for the Bears offense under Marc Trestman.
“We were kind of one-dimensional last year, I would say,” Forte said, actually in a bit of understatement. “So it’s going to be an emphasis for us this year to spread the ball around so that it works, it’s balanced. The defense can’t just focus on one guy or one position.”
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Last season Marshall put up arguably the greatest receiving season in franchise history: 118 catches, 1,508 yards, 11 touchdowns. But the offense was 28th in yardage, 22nd in third-down efficiency and 16th in scoring only because of the touchdown blizzard provided by the defense.
Every offseason and incoming offense is marked by the standard assurances: more use of the tight end – spread the ball around to all its weapons – be less predictable – and so on.
But one indicator of a true makeover in progress was evident in what Forte is being asked to do even before the team took the field this offseason.
Just like members of the defense who are expected to know everyone’s assignment, or offensive linemen who are required to know their assignment and everyone else’s, Forte is being tasked with learning the play-by-play job descriptions of tight ends and wide receivers.
Part of the reason is that he clearly is expected to operate on a need-to-know basis and he needs to know.
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‘‘I think it’s more challenging for me personally,’’ Forte said. ‘‘I have to learn more than just what the ‘H’ [back] does. I’ve got to learn what the ‘F’ [in-line tight end] does and where he lines up. I may have a situation where I line up as a receiver and I have to learn the receiver routes as well.
‘‘There’s a lot of routes that the running back has, even a fullback and tailback. The ball is going to be spread around pretty well.’’
An irony of last season was that the Bears invested heavily in Forte -- $17 million guaranteed in a four-year contract topping out potentially at $31 million -– and then under-used him. His receptions were a career-low 44, Michael Bush replaced him in myriad short-yardage situations and his 1,094 may have been one of the NFL’s quietest 1,000-yard season.
“I like [the offense] a lot,” Forte said. “Just to see the pass offense like everybody talked about in Oakland [2002 with Trestman as coordinator] when Charlie Garner had like 90 receptions and stuff like that. It has a lot of potential in this offense to be explosive in the running game as well as in the passing game.”