By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — For all the special moments of Matt Forte’s Bears career and all the memories that stand strong beyond his departure, Jeremy Langford was left to cherish the acts of kindness.READ MORE: 'John Doe' Who Accused Former Blackhawks Video Coach Brad Aldrich Of Sexual Abuse Identifies Himself As Kyle Beach
Well before Langford arrived at Halas Hall, there was Forte, the model of consistency. His picture is plastered atop the Bears’ running backs room, reminding of Forte’s hard work to join the likes of Walter Payton and Gale Sayers. It’s something in Langford’s sight every day.
Langford, now 24, was brought to the Bears as Forte’s replacement. He was drafted in the fourth round of Ryan Pace’s first draft in 2015, then came in for what seemed early on to be Forte’s final season — the end of an era. Forte knew it, too, but that didn’t stop him from lending a hand to Langford.
“He still took me under his wing and helped me out a lot,” Langford said of Forte. “I got to pass that on, too, when my time comes, because it’s going to come. That’s playing in the NFL, playing running back.”
From the day they met — with uncertainty already looming — to the end, Forte was there to mentor Langford. He refused to be bitter toward the rookie running back. Forte groomed his replacement rather than resenting him.
Forte set the example of how to be a professional. He demonstrated the ways in which an NFL running back works. Langford followed Forte’s lead, realizing his mentor would soon be gone from the team.
“I really appreciate him taking me under his wing,” Langford said. “I feel like when I get in that same situation, I’ll do the same for the next running back behind me.”
What made Forte unique was how that work ethic translated to the field. He sacrificed in the offseason in order to stay on the field for every play. Coaches had a hard time getting Forte off the field. That same work ethic should bring him success with the New York Jets, even at the age of 30.
Langford has made it the goal to be an every-down back, bringing the ability to run inside and out, catch the ball out of the backfield and pick up linebackers on passing downs. More so than all-around abilities, health and maintenance is required. Now, Langford is striving to fill Forte’s shoes.
“He stepped in and did a good job for us,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said of Langford “He’s got to take that next step of being that guy and being accountable on first, second, third down like Matt was. There’s no replacing two-two.”READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Showers Coming Thursday
Added Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains: “We like where Jeremy’s at. He needs to continue to develop.”
Langford carries himself similar to Forte, bringing a quiet confidence to work each day. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, but being a fourth-round pick often does that.
First up for Langford is solidifying the starting job. He faces steady competition in veterans Jacquizz Rodgers and Ka’Deem Carey, plus rookie Jordan Howard, drafted out of Indiana in the fifth round. Langford was solid during his rookie season, recording 537 yards and six rushing touchdowns. Still, there’s more he can do and plenty to earn.
Each day, Langford arrives at Halas Hall ready to work and prove he’s the Bears’ future at running back.
“It’s just a mindset,” Langford said. “(It’s) going out there trying to be a leader, try to be the No. 1 guy. That’s the mindset I go out there with.”
It won’t be fair, but Langford is likely bound to hear Forte comparisons during the early part of his Bears career. After all, Pace made the move to let Forte walk, despite a 2015 that was mostly productive.
The Bears believe in Langford as their future at running back. Nothing has been earned — not by any means.
Langford is striving for the kind of success Forte achieved in a Bears uniform.
“I want to be here for a long time,” Langford said. “That’s really up to me. I want to be successful.”MORE NEWS: View Live Radar