One of the primary questions surrounding the 2016 Bears has to do with the team's rushing attack. When the team and Matt Forte went their separate ways earlier this offseason, there was suddenly a large pair of cleats to fill. Could Chicago sufficiently replace, or potentially improve upon, what Forte brought to the team? Not only was Forte a talented, versatile player who ranked second in franchise history in rushing yards and receptions - trailing only Walter Payton in both categories - he was also a durable workhorse. Forte had more than 200 carries and 40 receptions in each of his eight seasons in Chicago.
The primary player who will be asked to take Forte's spot is running back Jeremy Langford. Langford played extensively as a rookie, but this season will be his first as the team's primary ball carrier. On Thursday night in a 23-22 preseason loss at New England, the second-year back showed he is up for the challenge. He ran the ball eight times, gaining 55 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown run; Langford also had an eight-yard reception. As a whole, the running game showed great steps forward from the preseason opener, as the Bears are showing they will be able to answer any doubts about their ability to replace Forte.
Langford showed early in the contest versus the Patriots has the complete skillset to be a top-tier running back. On a single run, he showcased his speed, power, elusiveness and vision, rumbling for a 34-yard gain. The play was a sweep to the right, with Langford following center Ted Larsen and right guard Kyle Long to the second level of the defense. The back, not content with just a short pickup, stutter-stepped before running right by All-Pro safety Devin McCourty. Eventually he was pushed out of bounds, but not before the big gain swung the momentum in Chicago's favor.
On the very next play, Langford followed Larsen once again, starting a run to his left before cutting back to the middle of the field and sprinting into the end zone for a score.
The offense worked much better in this preseason game than it had a week ago versus Denver. Much of that improvement was thanks to better blocking by the offensive line, which resulted in improved results from Langford and the rest of the run game. As a team, Chicago gained 125 yards rushing on 30 carries, a respectable 4.2 yards per attempt. Backup runners Jordan Howard and Jacquizz Rodgers each played extensively, especially in the second half.
"I thought Jeremy ran the ball really well, we opened up some lanes for him, but still some stuff to clean up though," quarterback Jay Cutler told the Chicago Bears Network during a sideline interview. "I thought (the offensive line) did a good job. You take away a holding penalty and some of the things we did wrong there, and it's a little bit cleaner. Overall it's definitely improvement, but we just have to keep getting better."
The Bears still have room to work on things prior to the regular season opener in Houston on September 11. One preseason game doesn't answer every question, so Langford and the running game are not entirely off the hook yet. But there is reason for promise that Chicago will be a strong team on the ground in the season ahead.