Bears

Mullin: Best collection of Bears skill players?

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Mullin: Best collection of Bears skill players?

Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
Posted: 10:46 p.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin
Every Monday afternoon I have a good time talking Bears with the folks at SportsRadio 1450, WFMB-AM in Springfield (and the Bears have some serious fans downstate). The guys put a great question on the table in the aftermath of the Atlanta game:

Is this the best collection of Bears skill players in the last 25 years?

The quick-evaluation answer on the show: Yes.

With more time to think about it and look back in some detail: Yes.

These comparison things are generally tiresome and clich. Usually its comparing the defense to the 1985 or 1986 group; enough of that, please.

But since the guys downstate asked, lets think about it:

For all of the Jay Cutler debate, or whether Matt Forte is worth Chris JohnsonFrank Gorewhoever money, or whether the Bears have or even need a No. 1 receiver, looking at the skill players was more fun.

Sadly, the points of comparison are pretty scant. The 1988 group, basically. Maybe the 1995 core of Erik Kramer-Rashaan Salaam-Curtis Conway-Jeff Graham. Thats about it.

1988?

Right now, Cutler is a better passer and arguably as good a quarterback as the 1988 Jim McMahon; Neal Anderson and Forte are a wash and two of the best all-around backs in franchise history. Tight ends are bit players in both systems.

But the 2011 Bears wide-receiver group is significantly better than Dennis McKinnon (best season, 45 catches) group, even if none of Earl Bennett - Devin Hester - Johnny Knox - Roy Williams - Sam Hurd - Dane Sanzenbacher are remotely in McKinnons class as a blocker.

I didnt consider the Bears receivers trash last year and I definitely dont now. Whether theyre anywhere close to good enough for reaching a Super Bowl (they showed last year that they were), go ahead; have at it. But this corps is the deepest for the Bears of the past quarter-century.
1995?

The 1995 group is the only other one with a seat at the table. Cutler hasnt had a season yet thats quite at the level of Kramer and his 93.5 passer rating, but Cutler has topped 100 for passer rating in six of the last nine games, including Sundays 107.8. Forte is a better runner, a far better blocker and an exponentially more accomplished receiver than Salaam. Plus, he holds onto the football.

Conway and Graham were both 1,000-yard receivers and each was better than any of Bears wideout right now. Those are the only two from the 95 skills who would start for the 2011 Bears, unless you like Keith Jennings over Matt SpaethKellen Davis.

But would you take Michael Timpson as your No. 3, or Bennett? Knox? For this offense and this quarterback, no comparison. And does anybody not think the 2011 group has a collective arrow pointing up?

None of these comparisons mean a whole lot. But as clichd as it has been to denigrate particularly the Bears wide receivers, give it all a rest. Enjoy it. This group may not play more than 16 games (the 95ers didnt) but its as good as theres been here since Walter Paytons era.

They can see that all the way down in Springfield.

Passing thoughts

Atlantas Matt Ryan became the latest quarterback to perform below his norm against the Bears. Of the 18 quarterbacks facing the Bears last season (not including fill-in Drew Stanton in Detroit), only Tom Brady (Patriots), Mark Sanchez (Jets) and Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks) twice managed to reach their season passer rating against the Chicago defense.

Ryan, a 91.0 passer in 2010, posted just a 76.5 rating against the Bears.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

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USA Today

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

Mitchell Trubisky shook his head and grinned when he fielded yet another question this week about the touchdown pass Tarik Cohen threw against the Baltimore Ravens.

“Dang, you guys can’t get enough of this,” Trubisky said. “I talked about it after the game. Dowell (Loggains) was saying it was the best pass of the game. I’m like, ‘All right, geez, let him play quarterback.

“… He threw a dime ball. I love how he was fading away on it and celebrating on the 50-yard line. Zach (Miller) made a great catch. So A-plus; really impressive spiral, especially with the gloves on. Can’t count any of that out. Tarik’s a special player and it was an awesome throw.”

The point here is less about Cohen’s throw and more about the Bears finding yet another way for the rookie running back to make an impact. So far this year, Cohen has rushed 50 times, caught 26 passes, returned 14 punts and now thrown that historic touchdown. He’s been asked to block in pass protection more frequently, allowing him to be on the field more. And he’s worked with wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni and Kendall Wright (who Cohen referred to as another receiver coach for him) to expand his route tree, leading him to be the most-targeted player (33 targets) on the Bears through six weeks. 

That may seem like a lot to put on the plate of a fourth-round draft pick from an FCS school, but it hasn’t been too much for Cohen. 

“We need Tarik to be that guy for us — the best playmaker we have,” Loggains said. “There’s no secret there. And he’s a guy who we’ll continue to use, and people are aware of him. So how creative can we get with him? How many different things can we do with him? 

“Like, we’re stretching him. Mentally, he’s stretched to the max playing all these positions — motioning out to wide receiver, playing running back and doing more in the backfield with more carries. So we have to keep stretching him and keep using him in the offense.”

Opposing defenses have keyed on Cohen since his explosive debut Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, scheming to muffle his playmaking ability. But he still managed to nearly have a walk-off 73-yard run against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, and then in Week 6, with defenses figuring they could crash down on him on sweep plays to the edge, he (literally) threw another wrinkle into how to gameplan against him. The next time the Bears run a toss sweep to Cohen, opposing safeties will have to think twice about bolting toward the line of scrimmage to stop him. 

Every time Cohen seems to hit a rookie wall, he and the Bears find a way to knock it down. The discussion a week ago about Cohen was that he was dancing too much and not cutting upfield quick enough; this week, it’s all about his perfect quarterback rating. 

“Our coaches do a good job of continuing to put him in places so he can be successful,” fellow running back Benny Cunningham said. “But ultimately I feel like he has such a genuine love of the game, I don’t see that happening (hitting the wall). Since the day he’s been here, from Day 1 to today, I’ve seen no drop-off in his desire to be successful and to help this offense.”

The Bears have known this about Cohen's mentality since they scouted and drafted him back in the spring, and his potential only blossomed after getting him into Halas Hall in May — “Early on, we knew Tarik was going to be pretty special,” coach John Fox said. But Cohen wouldn’t be able to reach that potential without the ability to handle the responsibilities of all the different tasks the Bears have asked of him so far. 

Cohen’s ability to do so many different things makes him an important player for this team, and his ability to do them with an exciting, playmaking flair has made him a fan favorite since training camp. So what’s next for the 5-foot-6 rookie?

“I think we’ve got something — I’ll punt the ball this week,” Cohen joked. “Naw, I’m playin’. I can’t put the ball for nothing, I don’t think. It’ll probably go like 20 yards.”

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

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USA Today

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

Nick Kwiatkoski was a full participant in Bears practice on Friday, marking the first time the second-year linebacker has done that since he suffered a pec injury Sept. 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Kwiatkoski sounded confident he could make his return five weeks after suffering that painful injury. 

“It’s not really my decision,” Kwiatkoski said. “I’m preparing like I am, so we’ll see. … “In my head I am (playing). But we’ll see.”

The Bears’ defense, despite placing three key players — linebackers Willie Young and Jerrell Freeman and safety Quintin Demps — on injured reserve, has been solid at worst so far this year. Pro Football Focus has Vic Fangio’s group as the third-best defense in the NFL through Week 6, behind only the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. 

While Christian Jones played some quality snaps next to Danny Trevathan (and John Timu — he struggled after Timu’s injury against Minnesota), Kwiatkoski represents an upgrade at inside linebacker. The Bears liked what Kwiatkoski did last year in place of an injured Trevathan, and were confident they wouldn’t miss a beat with him filling in after Freeman’s Week 1 injury. 

“He’s a smart guy who has been willing to work,” coach John Fox said. “And I’ve seen that improvement from last year to this year. And anytime you get whacked or injured or taken out for some reason, you’ve got to kind of regain that again. It’s like a do-over. So he has had a good week.”

Kwiatkoski stayed sharp by going through meetings and film study as if he were playing while that pec injury — which he said felt like a “bad pulled muscle” — kept him sidelined for practices and games. If Kwiatkoski indeed is active and/or starting Sunday against Carolina, the hope is he can step in and pick up where he left off in Week 2. 

“I have all the confidence that he'll do fine,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said prior to Kwiatkoski’s injury. And that confidence, in all likelihood, still exists.