Tarik Cohen

Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

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Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

We’re a little under five months away from the first meaningful snap of the Matt Nagy era, but since it’s April, it’s a good time to daydream about what the Bears’ offense could look like in 2018. 

So let’s add to that what Tarik Cohen had to say on Wednesday about his early impressions of Nagy’s offense.

“It can be dominant,” Cohen said. “… We have a whole lot of pieces on offense. It could get real crazy this year.”

At this time of the year, just about every player and coach is naturally “excited” by the prospect of a fresh start on a new season, especially with a new regime taking over. But these aren’t empty platitudes put forth by the players who’ve been available to the media this week.

Cohen said one of the first things he saw after the Bears hired Nagy was that the Kansas City Chiefs, while running his new coach’s offense, had two 1,000-yard pass-catchers (Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce) and a 1,000-yard running back (Kareem Hunt). 

“I was like, ‘I don’t know how that ball’s getting around like that,’” Cohen said. “But I know it’s going to be a good thing because we have as many weapons as we do, to know that everybody’s still going to be able to get the ball and get the yards, it’s a wonderful thing.”
 
Cohen said he’s worked this year on his route-running and receiving skills, which could make him an interesting candidate to back up the similarly-diminutive Taylor Gabriel at the “Zebra” receiver spot in Nagy’s offense. And while Cohen can be used there, that may sell short his skills as a running back, which will remain his primary role. 

“He just needs to understand he’s not a receiver, so there’s a lot of details that the receivers themselves are putting into it,” Nagy said. “He’s a running back. So whatever we can do in the specific routes he’s going to (run) — his route tree is not going to be quite as big. So that ones that he does have, he can hone in on those and understand the specifics of that. Coach (Charles) London will do a great job of teaching him that. But then also remember, too, we need you to run the ball, too. If you become one dimensional a certain way, now it’s advantage defense.”

Cohen, for what it’s worth, said he’s gained about 10 pounds and now weighs 190 pounds (“all muscle, solid,” he quipped), which should help him stay on the field as his role grows as a second-year pro. 
 
Cohen’s versatility, though, fits with the bigger-picture offensive scheme that Nagy and his coaching staff are in the nascent stages of installing this week. The inside zone and run-pass options concepts that are a big part of Nagy’s offense are familiar to Cohen, too — “that’s really how I got all my yards in college,” he said. 

But even while the Bears operate a basic version of the offense they’ll eventually use, there’s a certain excitement level around Halas Hall about how things could look come September. And how those things look should help Cohen get closer to — or reach — his goals after a strong rookie debut. 

“I just have this attitude like I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything yet,” Cohen said. “I wasn’t in the Pro Bowl, really not like a definite household name yet, so I feel like I have a lot more to prove. Didn’t have any 1,000-yard season in any phase of the game, so I feel like I have a lot more to do.”

As offseason program begins, Bears' offensive depth chart comes into focus

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USA Today

As offseason program begins, Bears' offensive depth chart comes into focus

The Bears’ offseason program begins Tuesday, with players allowed to report to Halas Hall for rehab, strength and conditioning work. Attendance is voluntary, and the first time the Bears’ non-strength/training coaching staff will be able to work with players will be during April 17-19’s voluntary veteran minicamp. 

But this week will be the first opportunity for Matt Nagy and his players to set the tone for the 2018 season, with OTAs and minicamps to follow over the next two months. So as the offseason program gets underway, here’s where the Bears’ depth chart stands, starting today with the offense:

Quarterback

1. Mitch Trubisky
2. Chase Daniel
3. Tyler Bray

The Bears could look to sign an undrafted free agent later this month to, at best, compete with Bray — who was only guaranteed $45,000 in his one-year, $795,000 deal, according to Spotrac — and at worst be a camp arm to have in Bourbonnais. Both Daniel and Bray know Nagy’s offense well, which is why they’re here. 

“So now you get Chase and Tyler that both know the offense, that are there to just from both sides help Mitch out,” Nagy said. “But yet, they’re both going to compete. So now Tyler goes in there. Tyler is very accurate, has a really strong arm with great accuracy. And really has grown into a really good person and than as a player, he hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunity. And now unfair to him at the end of the game there, you know, he had that one play, and there were some different conditions and different scenarios. That’s now who Tyler is, but he knows his role and he’s just going to help out Mitch.”

Running back

1. Jordan Howard
2. Tarik Cohen
3. Benny Cunningham

While there are some questions about Howard’s fit in Nagy’s offense — which requires its running backs to be reliable pass-catchers — the only running back in franchise history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career will have a prominent role in 2018. Cohen’s versatility fits a lot of what Nagy wants to do, and he’ll have more help around him this year than he did in 2017, when opposing defenses were able to double-team him without leaving themselves exposed. 

Cunningham reportedly will return to the Bears, which doesn't necessarily take Ryan Pace out of the market to draft a running back. But the Bears like Cunningham's leadership, pass protection skills and special teams play, all of which may be traits difficult to find in a mid-to-late-round running back.

But the focus on this unit is how Howard and Cohen can play off each other. 

“They’re completely different, right? But you can you use them in different ways,” Nagy said. “You can move them out and if they want to go ahead and try to cover you with a linebacker or cover you with a safety, that may predicate, dictate what you’re going to do offensively. I think you’re seeing that because of those two things, injuries and then because of positional flexibility of being able to get matchups.”

“X” and “Z” (outside) wide receiver

1. Allen Robinson
2. Kevin White

1. Cameron Meredith
2. Joshua Bellamy

Meredith isn’t officially back in the fold yet, as he remains a restricted free agent following the Bears’ decision to place an original round tender — worth $1.907 million — on him last month. Here’s reportedly attracted interest from the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, but hasn’t signed an offer sheet, which the Bears would have the opportunity to match. The Bears were prepared for this, though, and teams are able to present offer sheets to Meredith through April 20. 

“When we tendered him that way, we know these are some of the circumstances,” Pace said. “So we’re monitoring it closely. We know we’ll have a decision to make if an offer comes in, and we’re prepared for that.”

If the Bears were to lose Meredith, drafting a receiver would become a priority. But Nagy wants to give White every opportunity to succeed, and if the 2015 first-round pick makes the roster, he probably won’t be a part of Chris Tabor’s special teams units. That’s generally a requirement for reserve receivers — Bellamy is a special teams ace — and would mean that if the Bears do draft a receiver, he’ll probably be someone who can contribute on special teams. The point: Don’t look for the Bears to draft a receiver in the first round, and potentially not in the second round, either. 

“Zebra” (slot) receiver

1. Taylor Gabriel
2. Tarik Cohen

The primary responsibility for the “Zebra” receiver in Nagy’s offense is to play the slot, but it’s a versatile position that looks to be an ideal fit for these two diminutive, speedy players. Nagy said the Chiefs’ coaching staff scouted Cohen during the pre-draft process a year ago, though it didn’t sound as extensive as the Saints’ work on him.

“Y” (in-line) tight end

1. Adam Shaheen
2. Dion Sims
3. Ben Braunecker

“U” (split out) tight end

1. Trey Burton
2. Daniel Brown

The Bears are set at tight end, roster-wise, with Shaheen, Sims and Burton topping the depth chart and Braunecker and Brown solid special teams contributors. 

The boom-or-bust potential in this unit is huge — Shaheen and Burton combined last year for only 35 catches and 375 yards, but also combined for eight touchdowns. At best, Burton can be a highly-targeted matchup nightmare between the 20’s, with Shaheen an excellent finisher in the red zone. At worst, neither player takes the step the Bears envision, and the productivity from this position doesn’t improve much from 2017’s mediocre-at-best results. 

“(Burton) was the second, sometimes third, tight end in Philadelphia,” Nagy said. “Well, now we’re going to put him in a role where those numbers are going to be able to jump up. And that’s on us to be able to do that.”

Left tackle

1. Charles Leno
2. Bradley Sowell

Left guard

1. Eric Kush
1A. Earl Watford

Update: The Bears made official a one-year deal with Watford on Tuesday. The 27-year-old former Arizona Cardinals interior offensive lineman has played in 42 games, starting 22, in his four-year NFL career. 

Center

1. Cody Whitehair
2. Hroniss Grasu

Right guard

1. Kyle Long
2. Jordan Morgan

Right tackle

1. Bobby Massie
2. Bradley Sowell

A few options are here as the Bears look toward the NFL Draft next month. If Quenton Nelson is available when the No. 8 pick comes around, re-uniting the former Notre Dame guard with Harry Hiestand would be a layup. Nelson projects as a longtime Pro Bowler, and with the pool of quality offensive linemen shrinking seemingly by the year, it doesn’t matter that he’s “only” a guard. 

But for those reasons, the chances Nelson makes it to No. 8 may not be good. The Bears could opt to draft an interior offensive lineman with their second-round pick — as they did with Cody Whitehair in 2016 — and have him compete with Kush, Morgan and/or Grasu in training camp. Or the team could stick with Kush, who played well in 2016, and perhaps look to draft Massie’s eventual replacement at right tackle. Either way, it’d be surprising if the Bears didn’t take at least one offensive lineman in the draft. 

If the Saints didn't draft Alvin Kamara, would they have drafted Tarik Cohen?

If the Saints didn't draft Alvin Kamara, would they have drafted Tarik Cohen?

ORLANDO — It’s too simple to say the New Orleans Saints would’ve moved to draft Tarik Cohen had Alvin Kamara not been available in the third round of last year's draft. 

But coach Sean Payton and the Saints’ front office had a fourth-round evaluation on Cohen, and liked what kind of player he could’ve been in their offense. 

“We just valued a certain group of players at that position,” Payton said last week at the NFL annual meetings. “Tarik was a target for us, a guy that we said hey, here are the first round targets, we had Kamara in the second, we had Tarik as a fourth-round target. Those were guys that stood out that we liked.”

Kamara went on to be an integral part of the Saints’ playoff run, scoring 14 touchdowns and winning offensive rookie of the year honors. Cohen had a flashy rookie season, too, though not near to the level of Kamara — though, for what it’s worth, Cohen hardly had a similar surrounding cast of teammates as Kamara did with the playoff-bound Saints. 

That’s not to say Cohen could’ve put up similar numbers to Kamara had he been drafted by the Saints instead of the Bears, of course — that would be taking too much away from Kamara. They’re different players, too: Kamara is listed at 5-foot-10 and weighs 214 pounds; Cohen is 5-foot-6 and 179 pounds. 

But here’s what Payton said when asked what he liked about Cohen’s game:

“His hands and his ability to adjust, he looked real smart, he’s got the makeup you’re looking for,” Payton said from the NFL’s annual meetings. “He just reminded us of a younger (Darren) Sproles, and we saw someone we felt like we had a clear vision for.”

The similarly-diminutive Sproles had some of his best years in Payton’s offense, and that comparison has been thrown around quite a bit with Cohen — but not necessarily by someone with the gravitas to say it as Payton, under whom Sproles had plenty of success from 2011-2013. That’s worth something. 

The Bears played the Saints in Week 8 of the 2017 season, and while Cohen only touched the ball five times in that game, he was coming off back-to-back weeks in which he 1) threw a touchdown and 2) caught a 70-yard deep ball from Mitch Trubisky. There was plenty else that he put on tape that impressed coaches around the league, and not just Payton, given how frequently opposing defenses double-teamed him in 2017. 

But for Payton, seeing how well Cohen played during his rookie year was somewhat vindicating, given the evaluation he had on him. 

“When the draft ends and you begin the season, of course there are players that you like that go to other teams,” Payton said, “and then when you see them have success, you’re like boom, I was right.”