Running back Matt Forte no doubt is pleased the Bears are bringing back cornerback Charles Tillman and he hopes defensive tackle Henry Melton will return too.
In any case, he has confidence in general manager’s Phil Emery’s plan to rebuild a defense that allowed more yards last season than any in team history.
“We love those guys,” Forte said Thursday of the free agents. “As a player, you want to see a team stay loyal to them. If it wasn’t for injuries (including those of Tillman and Melton), we would have had a heck of a defense last year.”
Forte has monitored the Bears’ activity in free agency so far and is encouraged by the signings of defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young and safeties Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings.
At the front of his mind is how Emery’s offensive line overhaul last offseason helped him make the Pro Bowl in 2013.
“I think Phil is doing a good job,” Forte said at an appearance for his new charitable foundation. “Everybody knows that last season he shored up the offensive line, and so you kind of got to start there with our defense now. We’ve been piecing it back together. Hopefully in the draft we get a couple guys that can contribute early.
“Phil is very, very intelligent. He does a lot of scouting on his own. He used to be a scout. He knows what he’s doing when he’s evaluating talent. It’s not like he watches some guy for a little bit—he really studies them. So he knows what guys are going to best fit our defense as a whole and piece it together. He did a great job knowing Coach (Marc) Trestman and knowing what parts we needed and getting those. And knowing (defensive coordinator) Mel Tucker, he’s going to get the parts we need for that, too.”
Forte’s 1,339 rushing yards and 594 receiving yards last season were career highs. As the defense undergoes significant changes, he smiled Thursday at the thought of all 11 starters returning to the offense.
“First time that’s ever happened to me in my career here,” he said. “They always say, ‘This team will never be the same after this year,’ and it won’t because guys leave and guys come in. To have the entire offense back to start off is crucial.”
He pointed to the group of offensive players training together in Florida this week, including quarterback Jay Cutler, receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and four-fifths of the offensive line.
“That’s the thing about our group, having the whole group back—all those guys are down there bonding together,” he said. “We’ve never had that before.”
Forte missed the Bears southern gathering partly because of work for the Matt Forte Foundation, which he launched this offseason to help fund higher education for Chicago high school students.
Six seasons into his tenure with the Bears, Forte was struck by the correlation between dropouts and incarcerated teens in Chicagoland.
“If they’re dropping out, they’re (committing) crime,” he said. “So if I could do something to get scholarship money for these kids to continue their education—a lot of them can’t afford it. They can go to culinary school or trade school or even universities; then it would help cut down on the dropout rate and decrease crime.”
The foundation’s inaugural fundraiser, called A Run For Our Future, will take place March 30 as part of the 2014 Shamrock Shuffle 8K race in Grant Park.
Runners can sign up to be part of Forte’s team, with donations and raised funds going to Bears Care to assist Forte’s foundation. For more information, click here.
Forte’s foundation is also planning a celebrity home run derby in Schaumburg in June.
“At that age, like 18-19 in high school going to college, it’s a real impactful time, or even when you get to high school and all the way through, there’s a lot of influences,” Forte said. “Somebody’s life could go (up or down) in a matter of years. It’s really hoping to impact the community, one high school kid at a time, really.”
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