FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Matt Forte was strolling toward his locker just as Brandon Marshall was raving about his teammate’s intense workout regimen.
That’s when the New York Jets wide receiver jumped on the chance to tease Forte.
“Look at this guy,” a smiling Marshall said. “He’s walking in here now with no shirt on. Look at his body. Ooh! Matt Forte!”
The star running back is indeed a physical specimen, even at 30, an age at which many players at his position typical begin to decline.
But Forte, in his first season with the Jets, is off to a terrific start and showing no signs of slowing down. Through two games, he has 196 yards rushing — second in the NFL only to 33-year-old DeAngelo Williams of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“He’s always the most energetic guy in here after a game, whether it’s a loss from Week 1 or the win from Week 2,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “He’s running around. I feel bad because I feel a little sore and he’s running around like crazy, looking like he’s 20.”
There were whispers around the league after eight seasons in Chicago that perhaps Forte was wearing down after rushing for 8,602 yards on 2,035 carries as the Bears’ workhorse — a label he still fully embraces. Two years ago, he set the NFL record for running backs with 102 receptions.
The Jets were undeterred, signing him to a three-year, $12 million contract in March.
So far, Forte has delivered, carrying 52 times in two games while running for three touchdowns and catching seven passes for 68 yards. It’s a workload he’s confident he can maintain.
“Because it’s me out there doing it, so I have no doubt that I can continue to play how I’ve been playing,” Forte said. “In football, we all know that there are injuries that happen. But as long as you can continue to maintain your body and do maintenance — I do a lot of different things, whether it’s with my diet or my workout regimen during the week to get me prepared for Sunday so that I’m able to play at a high level every day.”
Not that coach Todd Bowles anticipates handing the ball off to Forte 30 times a game, as the Jets did Thursday night in a 37-31 victory at Buffalo .
“Again, it’s only been two weeks,” Bowles said. “We knew he could play. We knew he could tote it, and we just have to be careful and make sure he stays healthy throughout the season.”
Forte tweaked a hamstring before training camp and wasn’t able to practice until midway through. His first and only preseason action came in the Jets’ third game, but he has looked spry at the start of the regular season.
“It’s his preparation and the way he takes care of his body,” Bowles said. “Thirty is the new 25.”
Forte didn’t go into specifics about his eating habits or workout routines, but he agreed with a comparison to treating his body like a race car.
“You’re not going to put oil in the gas tank when you want it to run at top speed,” he said. “You’re going to put the high-performance fuel in it, so you’ve got to watch what you’re putting in your body. I eat clean a lot of the time, especially during the season.”
Since entering the NFL in 2008 as a second-round draft pick out of Tulane, Forte has 12,982 yards from scrimmage, the most in the league during that span.
He needs one touchdown catch to join Marshall Faulk, Marcus Allen, Thurman Thomas and Herschel Walker as the only players in NFL history with 8,000 yards rushing, 4,000 yards receiving and 20 TD receptions in his career.
“To be in the NFL and be a real, total running back, you must do what’s required of you, and that’s running, blocking and catching,” Forte said. “I just think it adds another dimension to the game when you have a running back who can catch.”
With wide receivers Marshall, Eric Decker and the emerging Quincy Enunwa providing targets down the field for Fitzpatrick, Forte gives New York the elements of versatility and unpredictability. He can run it, take a short pass — or even line up wide.
“Matt does a nice job back there,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s had a bunch of carries the first two games. He’s a guy that we want touch the ball a lot, so whether it’s in the pass game or the run game, we’re going to try to get him the ball.”
Marshall played three seasons with Forte in Chicago from 2012-14, so the running back’s start is no surprise to him.
“He’s a workhorse,” Marshall said. “That’s his nickname, Workhorse. … A lot of people had written him off, said he was done, he’s over the hill, and 30 is the drop-off. But a lot of people don’t know who Matt Forte is.
“He’s one of the hardest-working men I’ve ever been around.”