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How the Bears coached up Tarik Cohen after his punt return mistake in Tampa

It’s not that Bears special teams coach Jeff Rodgers never wants Tarik Cohen to try to pick up another punt that’s bouncing deep into Bears territory. It’s just that he doesn’t want the explosive rookie to try to pick up the ball when he’s surrounded by multiple defenders. 

That’s what Cohen did on Sunday, leading to a prompt fumble recovered by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which needed only one play to get in the end zone after the fourth-round pick’s gaffe. The challenge for Rodgers then is coaching up Cohen to retain his aggressiveness, but not make the same mistake twice. 

“We’re not down on the kid,” Rodgers said. “He’s trying to make an aggressive play and that’s always going to be in his nature. That’s what you like about the kid. 

“… I think you’ve just got to coach him as time goes on and say, ‘hey, the reason why you wouldn’t do something like that in this situation is because of this,’ or ‘this was a good play because of that.’ It’s so hard as a coach to prepare a player for every possible scenario, so you’re trying to give him general guidelines and rules to follow in the different situations he finds himself in.”

Cohen said after Sunday’s game he wanted to keep the ball from bleeding further toward the Bears’ goal line. He owned his mistake and made no excuses for it, saying if he faces that situation again he won’t try to grab the ball. 

But Rodgers pointed out a pair of punt return touchdowns that began with a player picking up a bouncing ball deep in their own territory: This from Tavon Austin and this Trindon Holliday score. Cohen has the skill to make a similar play, so Rodgers doesn’t want him avoiding every single bouncing ball from here on out. 

He just wants Cohen to be smarter when confronted with a bouncing ball and a handful of defenders surrounding him. 

“You’re not trying to dwell on the negative and keep reminding him that he made a mistake on the field,” Rodgers said. “You’re trying to coach him as best we can before those things happen and say, ‘hey, if you ever get in this situation...’ But a lot of that is learning experience. Unfortunately that one didn’t work out but hopefully next time, based on field position, based on proximity of opponent players, he’ll make a different decision.