Bears rookie Tarik Cohen wows the Bourbonnais crowds

BOURBONNAIS - No one appreciates an audience more than Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen.

The 5-foot-6, 181-pound, fourth-round pick out of North Carolina A&T has already captivated training-camp crowds at Olivet Nazarene University.

When Cohen turns the corner on a sweep or after catching a short pass, the excitement from the crowd is palpable. That's because he can appear hemmed in among tacklers and, in the blink of an eye, reappear 20 yards downfield. The only thing missing in the wake of his instant acceleration is the vapor trail. And his ability to cut at full speed leaves defenders tackling air.

Even he can't explain his unique style, but the North Carolina native knows where it comes from.

"It's from many years of backyard football," Cohen said. "So when it happens in a game situation, there's just reaction. I should just be out there having fun. And, if a spin move pops out, then it's a spin move - and if three more follow it, then that's how it happens."

His 40 time of 4.42 seconds makes Cohen a home-run threat on every touch. He's like a shot of adrenaline even in the most mundane practice and an overnight fan favorite. He hears the murmurs and cheers, and he thrives on it.

"I love it," he said. "I hear the deep breaths and everything. It's amazing. It builds confidence for me, knowing that I can still make the fans oooh and ahhh at this level. It's kind of like showing off a little bit."

Cohen averaged 1,405 rushing yards, 6.5 yards per carry and 14 rushing touchdowns in his four seasons as a starter in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, where he was the first three-time offensive player of the year in league history. So the fan reaction is nothing new for him.

"They see me as a playmaker," he said. "So they're always on the edge of their seats waiting for that big play, cutting back across the field or making that (touchdown) run."

But the question critics had was: Could the little guy from the small school translate that electricity to the NFL?

Early indications are that Cohen could be the perfect complement to last year's first-year sensation, Jordan Howard, a fifth-round pick who set the Bears' rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards.

"He's a matchup problem," coach John Fox said of Cohen. "He's tough for linebackers, even for safeties at times as far as covering (him), because he's explosive and real quick. And he has excellent hands.

"Like a lot of shifty guys, they don't give you easy hits on them, so hopefully he does a good job of avoiding those."

That will always be a concern with a player of Cohen's modest dimensions, even though he had 868 carries in college and caught 98 passes. He's been asked about his durability over and over, but he says not to worry because he rarely allows bigger players to get a clean shot. He also doesn't present much of a target.

"That's what I want to get across to people," he said. "They always ask: 'Am I durable enough?' And I always tell them: 'The object of the game is not to get tackled.' I'm not going to give a defender a free shot to tackle me."

It's a plan that's worked well so far for Cohen.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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