Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

The Chicago Bears have a really good problem in their backfield. Both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will demand touches in 2018 and are each starting-quality running backs. Howard is the more traditional first and second-down back while Cohen offers top-tier playmaking ability.

The duo is so talented that they were recently ranked the fourth-best backfield in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers. He finished his rookie season with 1,313 yards, second-most in the NFL. Last season, he rushed for 1,122 yards and 4.1 yards per carry even though Chicago had the league's least threatening passing attack (175.7 yards per game).

Howard isn't the only standout back on the roster, though. Tarik Cohen is a supremely talented runner and receiver and a perfect complement to Howard. Last season, he amassed 370 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards.

The Bears' backfield was behind only the Rams, Saints and Chiefs.

Howard set Chicago's rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 and became the first Bears running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be the Bears' primary back, but coach Matt Nagy expressed genuine excitement over Cohen's skill set which suggests he plans on getting him the ball quite a bit this season.

Regardless of how the touches play out, the Bears will present opposing defenses with one of the most challenging ground games in the NFL.

    How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

    How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Matt Nagy provided a defining quote for his offense when a reporter observed that Mitch Trubisky was continuing to take shots downfield instead of checking down during practice. 

    “That's never going to stop,” Nagy said. “Not in this offense.”

    For a team that had neither the personnel nor scheme to be successful on offense over the last few years, that one quote felt like a breath of fresh air. Not in this offense would the Bears be conservative, plodding and predictable. What’s never going to stop is the aggressive mentality Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have worked to instill in this group during the installation phase of preseason practices. 

    “That’s our attitude every time we come out on the field, is to be aggressive, to go full speed and it’s to execute all our assignments,” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. 

    Just because Trubisky has frequently hucked the ball downfield over the last few weeks of practice doesn’t mean this offense will go from one of the worst to one of the best in the NFL. There’s plenty of work still to be done, a large chunk of which falls on the shoulders of Trubisky. The coaching staff will begin paring things down next week, when a dress rehearsal of gameplanning begins leading up to Aug. 25’s meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

    But while that week of gameplanning surely will lend itself to less reflexive aggression, that overall approach isn’t going away. Not when the Bears are confident in Trubisky and the multitude of weapons surrounding their franchise quarterback. In a more narrow scope, Nagy said Trubisky's arrow is pointing up after back-to-back days of quality practice against the Broncos here in Colorado. 

    "It wasn't one good day, one bad day. It was two good days," Nagy said. "That's what his expectations are. That's what he knows that we want. He's done that and we're not gonna stop him." 

    For some perspective, last year Trubisky only attempted 30 passes of 20 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, 41 percent of Trubisky’s attempted passes traveled 0-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; drilling down further, 21 percent of his attempts were 0-10 yards and over the middle, representing most frequent “zone” to which he threw the football. Not all of those were check-downs, of course, but plenty of them were. Only nine percent of Trubisky’s throws traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 

    This was, of course, partly a personnel issue — Josh Bellamy was the most-targeted receiver on deep balls (eight), while guys like Dontrelle Inman (six), Kendall Wright (four), Deonte Thompson (three), Markus Wheaton (three) and Tre McBride (three) weren’t reliable downfield targets, either. But then again, Tarik Cohen was only targeted twice on deep balls — the first one, Cohen had a step on an Atlanta Falcons linebacker, but Mike Glennon’s pass was slightly under thrown an broken up in the end zone; the other was a 70-yard completion from Trubisky against the Carolina Panthers. 

    The point being: Not only did the Bears lack the personnel to create mismatches and be aggressive, but the conservative nature of the offense meant there wasn’t much opportunity within it to do so, either. 

    The Bears can be aggressive now in part because of the nature of the offense, and in part too because of the personnel they now have. If an opposing team wants to double anyone — Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cohen, etc. — that’ll open up a mismatch somewhere else on the field, which lends itself to aggressiveness. 

    “The biggest thing I’ve learned about this offense (is), just, there’s a lot of answers,” Trubisky said. “We’re not always going to have the perfect play call for the perfect coverage or whatever. But there’s always somewhere to go with the ball, pass to run, run to pass, there’s a lot of kills, options — there’s a lot of things we can do.”

    Said Burton, who’s put together a strong preseason to date: “That’s why (Ryan) Pace and Nagy brought all those guys here, to win the one-on-one matchups. I know we’re all looking forward to those whenever it’s our time, we gotta take advantage of it.” 

    Exactly how aggressive the Bears’ offense will be will become apparent in the next week and a half. While the Bears will still hold some things back against Kansas City to keep them off tape, the overall tenor of the offense will be more readily apparent on Aug. 25 than in the team’s other preseason contests. 

    And if all goes according to plan, not only will this offense be aggressive — it’ll be aesthetically pleasing to everyone watching, too. 

    “We’re going to keep taking shots,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to keep being aggressive because it opens up everything else when you can hit those shots. The key is just to be consistent with them, hit them and then it really stretches the field and opens up the run game and opens up the intermediate throws as well. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive, which I love.”

    Postcard from Camp: Things get chippy and the snaps get sloppy


    Postcard from Camp: Things get chippy and the snaps get sloppy

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It wouldn’t be fair to call them fights, but the Bears and Broncos did get into two skirmishes during two-on-one gunner drills during Thursday’s joint practice at the UCHealth Training Center. 

    Anthony Miller got mixed up in the first scuffle, and while coach Matt Nagy was talking to the rookie wide receiver, defensive back Deiondre’ Hall got involved in a bit of a tussle. The two teams were quickly separated, and after some talking-to’s from coaches, the rest of the morning went on without anything spilling over into pushing/shoving/fisticuffs. 

    Miller said Nagy’s message to him was one of understanding, and Miller said he knew he wasn’t supposed to be mixing things up like that. 

    “It’s all a part of the game,” Miller said. “Things can get chippy a little bit. It’s a physical game. You got grown men out here, some of them, they don’t like to get handled, and when that happens stuff pops off. But like I said it’s just a part of the game.”

    Those two skirmishes were the only times the intensity of these joint practices boiled over into something counterproductive. Pass rushing drills — the most physical battles between the two teams — would frequently end with a Bears’ offensive lineman giving Von Miller a pat on the butt or helmet, or something along those lines. 

    Nagy and Broncos coach Vance Joseph went into this week hoping to prevent the kind of all-out brawls that have marred joint practices in the past — like the one between the New York Jets and Washington earlier this month — and largely saw that message hit home. 

    “As competitive and as much of an ego as you want to have and try to fight somebody, it's not worth it,” Nagy said. “You know, there's injuries and it just doesn't make sense. So I think the best way to handle it is just bring everybody together and just tell them that, right? And just let them know that hey we're here to play football, not to fight and they responded well to that. These guys are in this league for a reason, because they're the ultimate competitors and sometimes that comes out. But that's our job as coaches to control it." 

    Roquan Watch 2.0

    Nagy said he was “happy with what he saw” after watching the film of Roquan Smith’s practice on Wednesday, but the Bears will continue to slowly bring the eighth overall pick along as he works his way back into football shape. Smith’s responsibilities and reps didn’t increase in Thursday’s practice, and Nagy said no decision has been made as to whether or not Smith will play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Broncos. 

    “I thought there were some plays where he showed some flashes of speed and cutting down angles and the instincts, I though his instincts showed up,” Nagy said. “He still, again, didn't get a whole bunch of reps yesterday, he got enough which was good — we didn't want him to get a lot of reps.” 

    Snap Slump

    The Bears have been adamant for months — really, since they drafted James Daniels with the 38th overall pick in April — that Cody Whitehair will be their Week 1 starting center. The thought is that letting Whitehair stick at one position, instead of shuttling between center and guard, would allow him to improve on the solid production he had in 2016 and 2017. 

    That may still be the case, but an issue has cropped up over the last week or so for the third-year Kansas State product: His snaps haven’t consistently been accurate. It’s been an especially noticeable problem the last two days here in Colorado. 

    Whitehair admitted he’s struggled with consistency snapping the ball, the root of which is both mental and physical, he said. 

    “Obviously if you don’t get the ball to the quarterback, the whole play is messed up,” Whitehair said. “So it’s something that I’m trying to move past and go to the next play but it is in the back of my head. I care so much that I gotta let it go. At the end of the day, it’s something I’m working on.”

    This was an issue for Whitehair a year ago that he ultimately fixed, even as Kyle Long’s availability shifted him between guard and center quite a bit. But a difference from last year to this year is the presence of Daniels, who starred as a center at Iowa and looks like a natural fit at that position.

    “You want those to be darn near perfect, 98 percent of the time if not near 100,” Nagy said, adding that it’s not just one guy having those issues. “Yeah, there are some struggles right now but we're going to stay positive with it.”

    If Whitehair can’t fix those snapping issues before Week 1, though, it’s fair to wonder if the Bears would almost have to move him to guard and insert Daniels at center. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be the first time a Bears rookie would be thrown in at center on short notice — Whitehair, after all, succeeded doing that two years ago. 

    Whitehair said he’s willing to do whatever the team asks of him, but is also able to draw on that experience form 2016 to stay positive as he works through this slump. 

    “(It tells me) just that I can do it,” Whitehair said. “(I was) put in there with a week of practice, and I did well my rookie year, so I gotta keep focusing on that, stay positive and keep working at it.” 


    The Bears released outside linebacker Andrew Trumbetti and signed long snapper Tanner Carew on Thursday in an effort to bring in some competition for Pat Scales, it would appear. Carew was the only long snapper invited to the NFL Combine earlier this year and was waived by the Seattle Seahawks in late July.

    Carew played for Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich in college at Oregon, and had some good things to say about his former coach back at the Senior Bowl in January. 

    "I love coach Helf," Carew said. "He’s a great coach and a better person. There isn’t a better judge of character out there than coach Helf. ... He truly does look out for his players and that really goes a long way, being a player that played for him."