LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith expressed appreciation Thursday for Matt Forte's professionalism as representatives for the running back and the team engage in negotiations on a contract extension.
Despite millions of dollars on the line and a short timeline before the start of the regular season, Forte maintains the same focus and work ethic he brought to Chicago in 2008 as a rookie, Smith said.
"The way he's done everything since he showed up here the first day dressed in a suit, his first day at Halas Hall -- just ready to go on a business trip -- that's what we've gotten from him," Smith said. "We realize he's got a contract issue going on right now. But he's come to work every day; hasn't missed a beat, missed a practice."
Entering the final year of his original rookie contract that pays $600,000 this season, Forte initially considered holding out from training camp until general manager Jerry Angelo personally pledged to him the team's desire to work out a deal as soon as possible.
Angelo has openly discussed the need to "do the right thing by Matt," but recently said on the Waddle & Silvy show on ESPN 1000 that "at some point, we have to draw a line in the sand, and just now focus on the season."
"In this offense, I'm really anxious to see how he is going to continue to flourish because we're going to do more things with him because we can, now that we know him better," Angelo said. "I'm anxious to see Matt play this year. He's worked his tail off. He wants to be a great player. He's got all the tools to do everything we want and to be a core guy for us."
Forte ranks fifth in the NFL over the past three years in yards from scrimmage (4,731), and it's believed Chicago needs to make an enticing enough offer during these negotiations for the running back to forgo 2012 free agency and remain with the Bears.
Angelo maintained Forte's extension remains one of the team's priorities.
But if the sides can't agree by the Sept. 11 opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Forte might once again have to consider whether to hold out, in part, because of the injury risk. If there's no extension for Forte, the club also has the option of placing the franchise tag on the running back in 2012 to prevent him from becoming a free agent until the next year.
It's believed the Bears don't plan to drastically increase what they've already offered Forte, and the early sense of optimism on the club's part might be dwindling.
Forte, meanwhile, continues to toil in silence.
"He's handled it well," Smith said. "But that's what you expect from a player like that."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.