Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen set to become Bears' thunder and lightning

Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen set to become Bears' thunder and lightning

Jordan Howard is the Chicago Bears starting running back. There's little debate about that. But there's also little debate about the game-changing talent of Tarik Cohen, the smaller yet electrifying change-of-pace option.

Howard finished 2017 with 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns, a good season by any standard. It was his second-straight year with 1,000 yards, something no other running back in Bears history can say they've done to start a career. Still, there was something special about Cohen every time he touched the ball. He's a touchdown waiting to happen and one of the best offensive weapons on the Bears' roster. 

Cohen finished his rookie season with 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three total touchdowns. He added 855 yards and a score on kick and punt returns. 

Howard and Cohen have completely different styles. They complement each other well, but it may be Cohen who ends up the preferred option for Matt Nagy.

Cohen proved he can have success on inside running plays last season and was a much better receiver out of the backfield than Howard. In fact, Cohen is something of a smaller version of Kareem Hunt, the running back Nagy coached to the rushing title in 2017.

But can Howard's workmanlike production really be ignored?

Guys like Howard never get the respect they deserve. He's not a flashy running back; he's not going to juke a defender en route to a 65-yard touchdown. Instead, he wears defenders down through a combination of hard yards and chunk plays. It isn't pretty, but it works.

Cohen was the more effective all-around running back in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. He ranked 29th at the position with a 76.8 grade while Howard was 34th at 73.6. 

Cohen finished in the top-10 among running back receiving grades, too.

Howard and Cohen established last season that they can co-exist. But that was with a different offensive coaching staff calling plays. In Kansas City last season, Nagy called Hunt's number 272 times on the ground. Charcandrick West was second on the team in carries with only 18. 

The Bears are likely headed for a true thunder and lightning situation this year, and that's not a bad thing. Defenses won't be able to prepare for one style of running back and that should give Nagy, who's been praised for his innovative playcalling, a significant advantage on Sundays.

With Howard thundering through would-be tacklers and Cohen electrifying fans in the passing game, the Bears' backfield may quickly become the most feared in the NFL.

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”