The productivity and durability that Kyle Long consistently brings to the Bears offense is never more evident to quarterback Jay Cutler than when the star running back takes a breather in practice.
"He does it all for us," Cutler said. "You take it for granted sometimes, especially in practice some days. You take him out of there and you forget how good he is. I'm glad he's out there with me. When he's not out there, it's the first thing I notice."
While the Bears have been a pass-first offense under coach Marc Trestman, Forte has continued to make a huge impact. Last season he was voted to his second Pro Bowl after ranking second in the NFL in rushing with a career-high 1,339 yards and third with 1,933 yards from scrimmage.
This year Forte is fifth in rushing with 733 yards, third with 1,308 yards from scrimmage and tied for fourth with 67 receptions. After being selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2008 draft, Forte rushed for 1,238, 929, 1,069, 997 and 1,094 yards in his first five seasons.
"The mark of a true pro is being consistent every day—not changing, no ups and downs—and that's him," Cutler said. "If it's Monday, if it's Friday, if it's Sunday at 12 o'clock, you're going to get the exact same Matt Forte every single day, and that's a great thing to have, especially for young guys to see. A guy that's doing it at that high of a level day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out, it's really something."
Forte ranks second in Bears history behind legendary Hall of Famer Walter Payton in yards rushing (7,399), 100-yard games (23), receptions (408) and yards from scrimmage (10,893).
Forte has also become only the fifth player in NFL history to compile at least 1,300 yards from scrimmage in each of his first seven seasons. The other four—Eric Dickerson, Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson—all are in or will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Yet when Forte was asked to identify the greatest accomplishment of his NFL career to this point, he didn't mention a record, a number or a statistic.
"Just being a consistent player," he said. "I don't want to ever have your play slack. When you play at a high level you always want to continue to show that each and every day whether it's practice or in the game. So I'm just proud of being able to be consistent out there on the field and being healthy enough to have played in a lot of games."
Forte has only missed five games in seven seasons due to injuries. He places a huge emphasis on taking care of his body year-round via stretching, working with chiropractors and massage therapists, and adhering to a strenuous conditioning regimen that includes running a hill a la Payton.
"Durability is a factor of being able to work out hard, but it goes with your rehab regimen," Forte said. "In order to work out hard and do that stuff, you have to get rehab and maintenance on your body when it doesn't hurt and continue to keep everything in line so that you can work out hard enough to simulate game-type situations that you'll be able to be durable and last the entire season."
Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer marvels at Forte's conditioning and concedes that it's nearly impossible to pull him out of a game for a few plays.
"If you come out there with me, you can help me try to drag him off the field," Kromer joked when asked by a reporter about resting the running back. "It's very difficult to get him off the field. We've had conversations with him about trying to lighten the load, but when you watch him play, you're waiting for him to get tired so you can take him out and he doesn't appear tired."
After watching Forte from afar, Kromer has gained an even greater appreciation for the running back while working with him the past two seasons.
"When you get up close … you realize his intelligence and his passion for the game," Kromer said. "You see his skills on tape, but you realize those other two things … everything from never wanting to come out of a game and not getting tired to his attention to detail every day and his passion for the game and what a good person he is. Those are the things that you can't see on tape."