Tarik Cohen

Players flock to social media after Fox's dismissal

Players flock to social media after Fox's dismissal

For Bears fans, John Fox's termination couldn't have come a moment too soon. For young, core members of the team, though, the firing was a moment for reflection.   

Jordan Howard, who's only known NFL life with the former Bears head coach, thanked Fox for his unwavering belief. The running back has been a revelation since coming into the league, posting back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. 

Thunder wasn't the only one to chime in, though. Lightning, or better known as Tarik Cohen, also expressed gratitude: 

Another rook, Eddie Jackson, was appreciative of the coach's communication: 

Say what you want about Fox's record, which was a miserable 14-34, the guy seemed to have won over a few key pieces for the future.

Bears: How Tarik Cohen avoided the rookie wall in his explosive debut season

12-27tarikcohen.jpg
USA Today

Bears: How Tarik Cohen avoided the rookie wall in his explosive debut season

Tarik Cohen wasn’t surprised by the physicality of the NFL or what it takes to successfully get through the grind of his 17-week rookie season. What he, perhaps, was less prepared for was the fame that’d come with one of the more exciting debut seasons by a Bears player in recent memory. 

“Going out to Wal-Mart, you always gotta take pictures, you gotta sign something,” Cohen said. “I wish it was an area like, sometimes I could turn it off, I could just be invisible, I could go to Wal-Mart and get meat, some paper towels and not be in there for 30 minutes. 

“… I see myself as a regular person, I just want everybody else to look at me the same way.”

What Cohen has done on the field in 2017, though, has been far from regular. He’s the first rookie to have a running, receiving, passing and returning touchdown since Gale Sayers in 1965. He’s the shortest player to throw a touchdown, which he did Oct. 15 against the Baltimore Ravens, since Wee Willie Smith in 1934 (“shout-out to Wee Willie,” Cohen said after that game, “I’m Wee ‘Rik”). He’s carried 84 times for 357 yards with two scores and caught 47 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown, all while providing a spark for a frequently-moribund offense. 

Back in August, a common line of questioning to Cohen was centered around if he could hold up over the course of a 16-game season. It made sense, at least on the surface: Standing at 5-foot-6 and weighing 181 pounds, the potential for Cohen to be hit hard and thrown around by bigger, stronger defenders was there. And those big hits, theoretically, could lead to injuries and missed time.

There’s been none of that for Cohen, who hasn't ever been listed on the team’s daily injury reports during his rookie year. For a team that’s placed 19 players on injured reserve since the beginning of training camp, that’s an even more impressive feat. 

“I think he takes care of his body,” coach John Fox said. “He’s a pretty quick guy. Even though he might be viewed as undersized, he doesn’t experience too many direct hits. I think he avoided that pretty well. His football IQ is good in that sense. He doesn’t put himself in compromising positions. That and I think his mindset has been to take good care of himself. He gets plenty of rest and it’s just being a professional.”

Cohen credited veteran running back Benny Cunningham for helping teach him how to take care of his body during the season. He’ll frequent the ice tub and get off his feet as much as possible, and for Cohen, off days are off days. Not only has that helped keep Cohen physically fresh, but mentally, he hasn't hit a rookie wall either. 

“(I try) to give him as much advice as possible about how to stay healthy, how draining it can become,” Cunningham said. “But I feel like he just has a genuine love for the game and you can see that every practice, every game — win or lose, his attitude and mentality, it stays the same.”

The Bears identified Cohen’s work ethic when scouting him, and figured his explosive playmaking ability could translate to the NFL level when they picked him in the fourth round of April’s draft. But Cohen’s blown past expectations like a defender trying to tackle him in 2017, and the Bears can see him growing with Mitchell Trubisky as a big part of their long-term plans.

“He practices really hard and brings a lot of energy and passion to the game,” Trubisky said. “He’s got the right mentality to play this game. His attitude is probably what’s going to carry him the farthest. His ability alone, catching the ball, running the ball, is special, but his attitude is what’s going to separate him. His mentality, no matter who’s up against him, is that he’s going to be successful and beat the man across from him.”

Of course, the more success Cohen has, the more times he’ll be stopped in Wal-Mart or wherever to interact with fans. All those in-person interactions have been positive, Cohen said, and not strange — “Just taking pictured in the frozen food section, holding sausages and stuff.” Cohen figured his diminutive stature makes him stick out, too. 

“They see a little grown man,” Cohen said. “There’s only one little grown man in Chicago right now.”

The six Bears most likely to make the 2019 Pro Bowl

12-19tarikcohen.jpg
USA Today

The six Bears most likely to make the 2019 Pro Bowl

While no Bears were named to the initial NFC roster for the 2018 Pro Bowl, the future may not be bleak for this franchise's representation in Orlando. In the short-term, Akiem Hicks and Jordan Howard could be alternates to this season's Pro Bowl, but there are a handful of players currently on this roster that could make strong cases a season from now.

1. DL Akiem Hicks

Regardless of what defensive scheme the Bears have in 2018 -- 3-4 or 4-3 -- Hicks will be an anchor for whatever plans the team has on defense. He's been a force in 2017 with eight sacks and 15 tackles for a loss, a nice reward for Ryan Pace after he rewarded Hicks with a four-year contract extension in September. Don't be surprised if Hicks uses his initial Pro Bowl snub as part of his motivation to play at an even higher level in 2018. 

2. OL Cody Whitehair

Whitehair struggled at times in 2017, though perhaps that was due to him sliding between guard and center during training camp and then in the first few weeks of the regular season. But Whitehair is finishing this year strong, and he played close to a Pro Bowl level as a rookie in 2016. If he sticks at center in 2018, chances are he’ll make a strong case to earn a Pro Bowl bid in his third year in the league. 

3. RB Jordan Howard

Howard missed out on the Pro Bowl in 2018 despite being the NFC’s second-leading rusher with 1,069 yards through 14 games. Perhaps his low public profile played a role in that snub, with Los Angeles' Todd Gurley and New Orleans' Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara getting in over him. But Howard is one of the best running backs in the NFL, and if the Bears’ offense can evolve into something less conservative in 2018, chances are he won’t face loaded boxes as much as he has in 2017. According to NFL’s Next Gen stats, 41.2 percent of Howard’s runs have come with eight or more defenders in the box, the seventh-highest percentage among qualified running backs. 

4. RB Tarik Cohen

Cohen could make it as a running back and/or a return specialist in 2018, based on what we’ve seen from the explosive rookie in 2017. Cohen is already the Bears’ best offensive weapon, with 348 yards on 82 carries, 327 yards on 45 receptions and three offensive touchdowns. He’s returned a punt for a touchdown and had a 90-yard kick return called back on Saturday against the Detroit Lions. Whoever is coaching the Bears in 2018 will have a dynamic player on his hands; Cohen’s highlight-reel plays and engaging approach with the media will certainly keep him on many’s radar around the league. 

5. LB Leonard Floyd

Floyd wasn’t on track for a Pro Bowl bid in 2017 before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, but the flashes were there for the 2016 top-10 draft pick. The issue with Floyd’s nascent NFL career hasn’t been about his athleticism or potential, but with his ability to stay healthy, with concussions costing him a few games in 2016 and the knee injury wiping out nearly half a season in 2017. A healthy Floyd should be able to play at a Pro Bowl level in Year 3 with the Bears, but whether or not he can be healthy remains to be seen. 

6. QB Mitchell Trubisky

Trubisky’s 2017 numbers aren’t far off from those of most rookie quarterbacks in recent history, and it’s likely the No. 2 overall pick will improve in his second year as a pro. Whether that improvement will be great enough to get him into the Pro Bowl is another question, and may be more dependent on the offense he’s running and who he’s playing with in that offense.