Bears

Two quarterbacks, two styles: No problem for Northwestern

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Two quarterbacks, two styles: No problem for Northwestern

Compare the statistics between Northwestern quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, and it's hard to tell who's the starter and who's the backup.

Both players played in all 12 games and have similar passing numbers. Colter was 92-of-134 for 796 yards, 8 TDs and 2 interceptions, an efficiency rating of 135.2 this season. Siemian's numbers read 116-of-197 (58.9 percent) for 1,192 yards, 6 TDs and 2 picks, good for an efficiency mark of 117.7.

While the numbers between the two are fairly even, the one lopsided category between the two is the number of quarterback starts. That's where Colter holds a 10-2 edge this season and that alone spells the biggest difference between the two.

Colter has 10 starts at quarterback and one as a wide receiver. Siemian wears the fireman's hat, coming in at times to revitalize a stagnant offense, including several rescues which helped secure a Northwestern win. When Siemian did get an opportunity to start a game, he made the most of it. He opened at quarterback against Indiana and proceeded to throw for a career-best 308 yards on 22-of-32 passing.

Ironically, Siemian's favorite receiver that day? Colter, who had nine receptions for 131 yards.

If you get the picture that Colter is versatile, you've nailed it. His rushing totals confirm that. He carried the ball 158 times, good for 820 yards and 12 scores with an average gain of 5.2 yards per carry. Starting tailback Venric Mark is the only Wildcat player with better numbers toting the ball as Mark averaged just over six yards a carry en route to a 1,300-yard season.

It's obvious either Colter or Siemian could be a full-time starter for most teams. Yet neither has a problem with his current role for the Wildcats. Colter says he doesn't think about the fact that sooner or later, Siemian will be coming into the game as his replacement.

"If you think about him coming in to replace you, you can't really focus on anything else," said Colter, a true junior who's played in all 25 NU games the past two seasons. "You push that to the back of your mind and focus on the plays and going out there and doing your best. If you're out there doing your best and you throw a pick or fumble, so be it. You don't think about that, you just try to do your best.

"If they need Trevor in the game and that gives us the best possibility to win, then they'll do that. Whenever we're out on the field, I want to see Trev do his best and he wants me to do my best. There's no conflict or anything between us. When we do run the two-quarterback system, it's to help the team win, that's why it works so well."

Even when he is replaced by Siemian, it doesn't necessarily mean that Colter is coming out of the game. In the two games that Siemian started - Indiana and Penn State - Colter saw plenty of action as a receiver and in backing up Siemian. He had a career best of nine receptions for 131 yards against the Hoosiers, and still found time to rush for 161 yards in 14 carries from the quarterback spot while scoring a school record-tying four rushing touchdowns.

"I don't mind going in at wide receiver," the Denver native said. "If I'm going to have a chance to play at the next level, it probably won't be at quarterback, so any chance I get to go out there and showcase my abilities, I'm going to take advantage of it.

"I love playing quarterback, I've been playing it my whole life, but wherever the team needs me I'm going to go out there and play."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has instituted the two-look system at quarterback and it's worked out well for the Wildcats offense. NU averaged 397.8 yards per game and scored at better than a 30-point clip per outing.

"We believe we've got two young men that we can win with," the Wildcats coach said. "We watch a lot of NFL teams that don't have one. We're very fortunate to have two.

"Cain is a very dynamic athlete who does a lot of things very, very well. He's a terrific leader, has had a great, great season.

"We've put Trevor in some tough situations and he's handled them incredibly well this season. He's had a great finish for the year and has a really, really bright future. These are two guys who we feel strongly about, that we feel we can win with and do things at a very high level. That's why we're here. We've rode their coat-tails, and obviously they're going to need to play well against Mississippi State."

Siemian's only two starts this year showed that he is worthy of being a full-time starter. He was a combined 43-of-68 (63.3 percent), good for 443 yards with one touchdown and an interception in games against Indiana and Penn State. Six times this season he's had double-digit pass completions. Five times he's passed for over 115 yards.

Siemian is more the pro-style passer at 6-3, 210 pounds compared to Colter's 6-foot, 190-pound frame that enables him to escape danger much easier than Siemian. The latter makes it clear, he'd like to start. But he's a "team player", someone who's more concerned about helping the Wildcats gain a win than complaining about not starting.

"I'm just thankful for the opportunity to come in and move the offense when I get my chance," said Siemian, an Orlando native. "That's my job to be a leader on this team. I want to be the starter, but it doesn't matter what I think. I'm just a player, my job isn't to coach. I'm just glad to be here and contribute when I can to help us win.

"Kain and I have a good relationship. It's been good for both of us to get on the field. Obviously our styles are a little different, but we're both out there trying to help each other."

Two quarterbacks, two styles, two unselfish players. It's proven to be a winning combination for Northwestern this season and could be the factor that helps the Wildcats to their first bowl game win in 64 years.

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.