By Chris Emma–
INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) — Now that the emotions of Matt Forte’s departure from Chicago have settled, the Bears are busy identifying their future at running back.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace made it clear that his decision to part with Forte was made as a move of confidence in his team’s younger running backs, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. Still, Pace is looking for one more fit at the position, starting with evaluations at the NFL Combine.
With so many needs across the board, drafting a running back isn’t among the top priorities, but it’s a luxury the Bears can afford with nine draft picks and approximately $60 million in cap room.
Picking with the 11th overall selection, the Bears may have a choice on the top running back in the field, Ohio State standout Ezekiel Elliott, who has expressed interest in coming to Chicago. Elliott was recruited to the Buckeyes and coached by Stan Drayton, now the Bears’ running backs coach.
“Stan Drayton, that’s my guy,” Elliott said. “He’s been part of it ever since I got on campus. He’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m (at the NFL Combine) today. He made sure that when I learned the position, I learned it thoroughly. I learned now only what I do, but what the guys around me do. That made me understand the game so much better.
“If I went to Chicago and played for Stan Drayton, I know he’s a guy that would stay on my case. I know that he would never let me get content. He’d always push me. That’s what he did for me at Ohio State. It would be nice to reunite with him.”
However, the Bears have greater team needs on the defensive side of the ball, and the top half of the first round consists of talent on defense. Finding playmakers is the team’s top goal this offseason, specifically in the draft, Pace said Wednesday.
Pace may look deeper into the draft field for a running back. An intriguing prospect who caught the Bears’ attention is shifty UCLA running back Paul Perkins, whom Drayton met with in Indianapolis.
In Perkins, the Bears could add an ideal complement to Langford’s steady abilities and Carey’s powerful presence. Perkins is 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, a back with explosive burst. He models his game after the great Marshall Faulk.
Perkins is projected to go in the third or fourth round. What would a team be getting?
“An all-around running back,” Perkins said. “I have great vision, I can pass block very well and catch the ball out of the backfield.
Another option for the Bears is adding an H-back, which would be needed versatility alongside Langford and Carey. Kansas State fullback Glenn Gronkowski, brother of Rob Gronkowski, is one name to watch. The Bears met with Northwestern “superback” Dan Vitale on Thursday, showing interest in his services.
A high school standout at Wheaton Warrenville South, Vitale was a four-year starter at Northwestern, playing its superback position that translates ideally to the NFL’s H-back role. He worked with running backs at the NFL Combine and fit right into place. Vitale’s projected to go in the later rounds. The Bears have five picks from rounds 5-7.
With a player like Vitale, the Bears could add a new element to their offense. For a lifelong Bears fan, joining the hometown team would be a thrill.
“Obviously, that would be pretty incredible, being a Chicago Bear,” Vitale said. “Being a hometown kid, I grew up watching the Bears, through the highs and the lows. That would be something pretty cool to go in there and help them be successful.”
Plenty of more options will be available to the Bears, who will have the resources available to add a running back with potential. It’s possible the Bears go the route of free agency, with names like Ronnie Hillman, Chris Ivory, Reggie Bush and more available. Pace and the Bears brass are spending time at the Combine evaluating their options.