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.

As Roquan Smith misses practice with hamstring soreness, Bears' Matt Nagy readies to face old friends

As Roquan Smith misses practice with hamstring soreness, Bears' Matt Nagy readies to face old friends

(A bunch of injury information from Bears practice Tuesday, but that can get boring so we’ll start with something else for a change, because little of the injury stuff is for-sure….)
Third preseason games are significant as indicators for players, with starters typically playing into third quarters of these games. But for Matt Nagy in his first-ever gig as a head coach, Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs is also his first in which a modicum of game-planning is in order, making it a semi-revealing look at his game-day and game-prep capabilities.
Nagy will be on the opposite sideline from his mentor and coaching role model, Andy Reid, who gave Nagy his start in 2008 as a coaching intern with the Philadelphia Eagles, then hired Nagy in 2013 as quarterbacks coach when Reid moved to Kansas City.
So Nagy this week is scheming for an offense and defense with which he has more than just a passing familiarity (pun intended). And with individuals with whom he is close personally as well as professionally.
“It is preseason, and I think it just kind of puts a little added fun to it, just the respect I have for that organization and obviously for Coach Reid and [Kansas City GM Brett Veach,” Nagy said, smiling. “That’s where I started, so it’s fun.
“But [Chicago] is my home, and [the Bears are] my ‘family’ now. We’ll have a good time with it. There will be some chuckles and I’m sure some eye contact across the sidelines a few times, but it’ll be all fun.”
The Bears practiced with scout-team players wearing red over-jerseys to signify certain key Chiefs: e.g., 50 for Pro Bowl rush linebacker Justin Houston, 87 for tight end Travis Kelce. Nagy as Chiefs coordinator knows Kansas City personnel and the mind behind them.
“Game planning while knowing those guys, they know I know them inside and they know us inside out,” Nagy said. “So there’s a little bit of reverse psychology going on right now. You’ve just got to figure out if you’re playing chess or are you playing checkers. And I guess we’ll see.”
And now, those injuries, starting with…
Roquan Smith.
The rookie No. 1 draft choice was in uniform but was pulled from practice when he experienced soreness in his left hamstring. The immediate suspicion/concern is that Smith’s month-long holdout while his contract was hammered out contributed to the soft-tissue problem, not an uncommon occurrence with a player at the outset of training camp, which this past week has effectively been for Smith.
He was held out of the game in Denver and was expected to make some sort of debut against Kansas City. But the missed practice, spent running in the team’s sand pit for off-field work, raises a significant question about his potential readiness for Saturday, with the Bears waiting to see the state of his hamstring on Wednesday.
“There [was] just some tightness, so [sitting out is] more precautionary than anything,” Nagy said. “That’s exactly why we do what we do. If you put him in early and he’s not ready, then something like this happens where it gets worse. So we just want to be precautionary with it.”
Nagy said that had this been an in-season game week, the thought was that he could have practiced through the hamstring. But preparing for a preseason game that represents the only anticipated game action for the rookie linebacker before the regular season, the team wants the greatest chance that Smith will be operational by Saturday.
Smith identified game-level conditioning as the biggest hurdle for him to overcome heading into his first game. He worked out assiduously with strength coaches in Georgia during the contract negotiations, but “you work out and do all the running you can,” he said, “but it’s nothing like football shape.”
Smith is not the only significant member of the defense in particular who is unofficially “questionable” approaching the midpoint of a game week.
Linebacker Leonard Floyd, as expected, is not practicing after surgery to repair a fracture involving the fingers of his right hand. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks was at Halas Hall on Tuesday but not practing on a balky knee that kept him out of the Broncos game. Linebacker Aaron Lynch remains out with a hamstring strain suffered in the first practice of training camp. 

Tight end Adam Shaheen, who left with a foot injury in the first quarter of the Denver game, is still not practicing and the Bears do not appear to be either clear on the precise degree of the problem or don’t want to get into it beyond identifying the injury as a sprain.
“With Adam yesterday, he went ahead and got his ankle looked at it, and we ended up seeing there’s a little bit more to it with his foot,” Nagy said. “We’re kind of trying to figure out exactly where he’s at right now. We’re probably going to get it looked at, a second-opinion type deal. And that’s kind of where we’re at with him.”

Report: Bears won't have shot at Khalil Mack yet

Report: Bears won't have shot at Khalil Mack yet

Bears fans looking for a blockbuster trade might not want to get their hopes up.

With Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack continuing his holdout, speculation has run rampant about a team like Chicago acquiring the star pass-rusher.

Early indications are, he’s not going anywhere.

Albert Breer from the MMQB reported Monday that “inquiries about Mack’s availability from other NFL outposts have been quickly met with a no.”

This doesn’t mean that the Raiders couldn’t change their mind at some point, but for now, Mack appears to be off the market.

Any potential deal for the 2016 Defensive Play of the Year would require massive compensation, likely a first-round pick and more. The team that trades for him also has to give him a long-term contract extension, which could cost upward of $20 million per season.

Still, the Bears remain among the favorites for Mack’s potential destination because of their available cap space and lack of proven pass-rushers.

The longer the holdout goes, the more pressure Oakland may feel to make a move with their Pro-Bowl edge rusher. When the trade deadline rolls around at the end of October, the Raiders could be more likely to pick up the phone.