Chicago Bears' Cohen showing his versatility at camp

 
By Eric Edholm
eedholm@profootballweekly
Updated 7/22/2018 9:08 PM
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  • Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen runs with a ball during practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Lake Forest, Ill., Wednesday, May 23, 2018.

    Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen runs with a ball during practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Lake Forest, Ill., Wednesday, May 23, 2018. Associated Press

BOURBONNAIS -- The Chicago Bears' plan for Tarik Cohen this season might have been forecast in one three-play stretch midway through Sunday's rain-soaked training camp practice.

On one play, Cohen was lined up next to Mitch Trubisky in the shotgun, taking a handoff off tackle on a delay. Then, Cohen split out wide and ran a route with the skill of a wide receiver. On the third play, Cohen ran a dart of an arrow route -- cutting well on the wet field -- and even though the ball went elsewhere, he got open.

Cohen's nicknames and job titles have been growing by the minute since Matt Nagy took over as head coach. He's been called the "Human Joystick" and "Chicken Salad" in the past, but Cohen might have more nicknames if he keeps expanding his role the way it appears to be trending.

"I enjoy the challenge because you can make plays at a lot of different positions on the field, and the more positions I am (at), the more opportunities I have to make those plays," Cohen said.

The second-year back still isn't the likely workhorse at that position. That job remains property of Jordan Howard, whom Nagy said will be a three-down player this season. But that doesn't mean there shouldn't be an increase in Cohen's work. He was all over the field on Sunday, even working in individual drills with the wide receivers at one point, along with his running back and special-teams roles.

Nagy isn't too worried about pushing the 5-6, 181-pound Cohen too far, too fast early in camp.

"I think the biggest thing is just monitoring them with their legs, making sure they're not doing too much," Nagy said. "Usually you don't have a guy who doesn't do enough. I've talked with the team and each guy individually and Tarik can go on and on and on, so we know that and we as coaches can't abuse that and try to do too much.

"He does have a large capacity, a big tank to fill up with plays, And we can move him around, do different things, and it's not too much for him. Some guys you can't do that. With him we can but we just have to make we don't do too much."

After Cohen's flashy debut in the 2017 season opener, it appeared he'd be in line for a steady diet of touches. Against the Falcons in Week 1, he ran the ball five times for 66 yards, caught 8 passes (on 12 targets -- tied for the most by any Bears player last year) for 47 yards and a score and returned three punts for 45 yards.

But the previous staff only handed him the ball more than 12 times in a game once in 2017, and Cohen would be targeted a mere 59 times in the remaining 15 games. Some of that is on John Fox and his assistants. But it's also important to note that Cohen struggled down the stretch, averaging a mere 4.8 yards on his 25 catches in the second half of the season and failing to surpass 13 rushing yards in five of the final six contests.

For his part, Cohen also isn't worried about his busy camp workload affecting his late-season effectiveness -- at least not right now. Part of the reason is how things have slowed down for him in Year 2, even while trying to absorb Nagy's system and master the wide variety of assignments that will be asked of him.

"It's way easier," he said of this season. "I felt like last year I was scrambling out there. For (a) rookie season in the NFL, your mind's going to be scrambling, but now it's slowed down a little bit, I'm more comfortable in the offense, I know what to look at. I don't have to look at the whole picture, I can just look at where my eyes need to be. I feel like my eyes are more trained now."

When asked what we specifically should call Cohen, position-wise, he joked: "power back." He also really seems to be enjoying playing for Nagy, whom he called a "swag coach." And Cohen received the second-loudest ovation (behind Mitch Trubisky) at the start of Sunday's practice.

His skills, his comfort and his effortless charm -- Cohen seems to be lined up for more work and better results in Year 2 the way things look now. But as he pointed out, there are a lot of new mouths to feed in this offense, especially in the passing game. There are few guarantees for any one of them receiving a certain quota of touches, so Cohen is determined to earn whatever role he's in line for.

"I'm very excited," he said. "The main thing for me (is that) we have a lot of players out there that can be a mainstay in the offense, so for that reason there's not going to be as many double-teams on everybody on the field, so a lot of one-on-one matchups and it's an opportunity for everyone to win."

• Eric Edholm is a senior editor for Pro Football Weekly. For more on the NFL, visit profootballweekly.com and follow Eric on Twitter @Eric_Edholm or @PFWeekly.

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