By Chris Emma–

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Caught in the moment, football fans can be cruel. Bears running back Matt Forte knows that all too well right now.

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As Forte is recovering from an MCL sprain suffered three weeks ago, rookie running back Jeremy Langford has excelled as his replacement, compiling 264 all-purpose yards combined in a primary role the past two games.

With Forte, a few weeks shy of 30, in a contract year, some Bears fans are ready to move on with Langford and without Forte. He’s wary of the talk outside of Halas Hall.

“The NFL is what have you done for me lately,” Forte said Thursday. “It’s whatever is done next. I’ve obviously been out for a few games, and (Langford has) done his job, done well stepping in for me. Everybody is looking for the next-best thing.”

It seems that Langford could be the future at running back for the Bears. A fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, Langford is a versatile option out of the backfield, combining talented rushing ability with sound hands in the passing game and a solid pass-protection presence.

But Forte’s still in a Bears uniform, working his way back from the injury. He’s not gone yet, not by any means. In fact, Forte has been just as efficient this season as he’s ever been, compiling 548 rushing yards and 219 receiving yards in seven games.

Forte’s working himself cautiously in the recovery, rather than rushing back as he has twice from the same injury. In 2009, he played through an MCL strain. On Thursday, he took practice off as a precaution because the Bears were practicing on a hard turf surface. It’s a different scenario for a veteran fighting for his future in the NFL, though Forte says he’s “pretty close” to a return.

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Some have already written Forte off as he takes time to make a full recovery. While Forte thinks about the long term, Langford looks like he could be the Bears’ future.

“Obviously, with the situation being me in my contract year, my last year (of the contract), it’s obvious that’s the storyline that will come up,” Forte said. “Chicago is kind of like that: ‘Well, see you later, Matt!’ I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve been here eight years — you’re just going to throw me to the side like that?’ But that’s the nature of the NFL.”

Forte was jovial in addressing the elephant in the room, keeping a smile on his face nearly the entire time in front of the cameras and microphones. He understands the situation and doesn’t take it personally — “The fans are the fans,” he said — but it’s one of the harsh realities of the business.

Perhaps Forte is being passed up. He hasn’t spoken with Bears general manager Ryan Pace about his contract situation. He hopes his game does the talking.

But if Chicago is moving on with Langford, then Forte is ready for his next-best thing, too.

“I’ll be a free agent at the end of the year,” he said. “I can continue my career, no matter what happens.”

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Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.