Bears

How the Bears coached up Tarik Cohen after his punt return mistake in Tampa

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USA TODAY

How the Bears coached up Tarik Cohen after his punt return mistake in Tampa

It’s not that Bears special teams coach Jeff Rodgers never wants Tarik Cohen to try to pick up another punt that’s bouncing deep into Bears territory. It’s just that he doesn’t want the explosive rookie to try to pick up the ball when he’s surrounded by multiple defenders. 

That’s what Cohen did on Sunday, leading to a prompt fumble recovered by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which needed only one play to get in the end zone after the fourth-round pick’s gaffe. The challenge for Rodgers then is coaching up Cohen to retain his aggressiveness, but not make the same mistake twice. 

“We’re not down on the kid,” Rodgers said. “He’s trying to make an aggressive play and that’s always going to be in his nature. That’s what you like about the kid. 

“… I think you’ve just got to coach him as time goes on and say, ‘hey, the reason why you wouldn’t do something like that in this situation is because of this,’ or ‘this was a good play because of that.’ It’s so hard as a coach to prepare a player for every possible scenario, so you’re trying to give him general guidelines and rules to follow in the different situations he finds himself in.”

Cohen said after Sunday’s game he wanted to keep the ball from bleeding further toward the Bears’ goal line. He owned his mistake and made no excuses for it, saying if he faces that situation again he won’t try to grab the ball. 

But Rodgers pointed out a pair of punt return touchdowns that began with a player picking up a bouncing ball deep in their own territory: This from Tavon Austin and this Trindon Holliday score. Cohen has the skill to make a similar play, so Rodgers doesn’t want him avoiding every single bouncing ball from here on out. 

He just wants Cohen to be smarter when confronted with a bouncing ball and a handful of defenders surrounding him. 

“You’re not trying to dwell on the negative and keep reminding him that he made a mistake on the field,” Rodgers said. “You’re trying to coach him as best we can before those things happen and say, ‘hey, if you ever get in this situation...’ But a lot of that is learning experience. Unfortunately that one didn’t work out but hopefully next time, based on field position, based on proximity of opponent players, he’ll make a different decision.

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

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AP

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

JJ Stankevitz and The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain break down the Bears’ joint practice with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, including how Roquan Smith looked, some encouraging signs for the offense and an enjoyable sequence of pass-rushing drills involving Von Miller.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here:

Postcard from Camp: The tests begin in earnest for Roquan Smith

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Postcard from Camp: The tests begin in earnest for Roquan Smith

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Bears aren’t sure when Roquan Smith will make his preseason debut, but anecdotally the eighth overall pick didn’t look overly rusty or anything along those lines during Wednesday’s joint practice with the Denver Broncos at the UCHealth Training Center. 

Surely Smith and his coaches will pick apart some things he did on Wednesday when they watch the film. But Wednesday was Smith’s first padded practice since prior to the College Football Playoff title game, and more than anything, he came away feeling positively about where he stands following his four-week contract holdout. 

“I felt great,” Smith said. “That's the way football is played. That's why I've made my plays in pads. It was great just being back out in pads and getting after it and doing a little poppin’.”

Smith did relay the defensive calls to his teammates and set the front during team drills, though he characterized those responsibilities as “basic linebacker stuff.” Mentally, though, Smith felt sharp and well-prepared for the responsibilities he did have on Wednesday. 

“I remember a lot of the defense,” Smith said. “I had my tablet when I was back in Georgia so I was watching a lot of film and stuff like that. It's not like it's my first time seeing some of the defensive calls.”

From a bigger picture, Wednesday was another step toward Smith winning a starting job. He's win it at some point; that’s why the Bears drafted him eighth overall. 

But how quick he’ll win that job is a legitimate question. Bears coaches need to evaluate what Smith did on Wednesday and have an honest conversation with him about how he feels before determining if they can put more on his plate for Thursday’s practice. This very much is a narrow, daily process. 

Smith could get the nod Week 1, or it could be later than that, depending on how his viewed in comparison to Nick Kwiatkoski. Coach Matt Nagy feels like he, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires have enough time — just barely — to evaluate Smith’s readiness for the Green Bay game. While he may not play in Saturday’s game in Denver, Nagy said he does believe having Smith only participate in one game — which would be next Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs — would be enough to have him ready for the trip to Green Bay. 

“Just knowing who Roquan is and the way he handles his business, you guys all know who he is and how he works,” Nagy said. “He knows it’s going to be a challenge. … We’re right at that line, in my opinion, so we’ll test it out and we’ll see here in the next couple days slash weeks where he’s at.”

High Praise in Denver

A reporter made the observation to Nagy that Mitch Trubisky seemed to be taking a lot of deep shots in Wednesday’s practice. Nagy’s response might as well be the preseason slogan for his team:

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

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who missed practice with a foot injury, caught wind of that quote and excitedly responded on Twitter:

As was been the case in Bourbonnais, the Bears and Trubisky remained as aggressive as ever during Wednesday’s practice even with another team’s players lining up across from them. That collective — Nagy, Mark Helfrich, Dave Ragone, Trubisky, Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray — are still figuring out what this offense can and cannot do with No. 10 as its quarterback. 

How that aggressiveness plays out during next week’s practices leading up to the Kansas City game — for which coaches will put together a true gameplan — will provide a bit of a clue to how this offense will actually operate during the regular season. 

For what it’s worth, Trubisky and the Bears’ offense left an impression on one of the best defensive players in the league on Wednesday. 

“I think the offensive scheme and the players he has around him, he’d be great,” Broncos edge rusher Von Miller said. “He was great last year. He was great in college as well. He’s their franchise quarterback. … He can do a little bit of everything, so you gotta be prepared.”

Calling Trubisky’s 2017 “great” is a stretch, but for what it’s worth, Miller has had to face the Andy Reid version of Nagy’s scheme the last few years, so he may not have been entirely dropping an empty platitude in there.  

More Miller Time

One of the more enjoyable portions of Wednesday's practice was watching the pass-rush drills of the Bears' offensive line against the Broncos' defensive line/edge rushes, and the Broncos' offensive line against the Bears' defensive line/edge rushers. For two teams that've done nothing but hit each other for the last few weeks, this drill had plenty of juice to it. 

For the Bears' pass rushers, it was an opportunity to face an offensive line that had different snap counts and sets, explained outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. Floyd said he was eager to go back and watch the film to see how he did and pick up some tendencies for Thursday's drills. 

On the other field, we got to see Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb rush a few times against the Bears' offensive line, which provided an excellent test for that group. And Miller offered some more praise and an optimistic outlook for the guys he went against, starting with left tackle Charles Leno. 

"He’s been a consistent left tackle for a long time, it doesn’t matter who he plays against," Miller said. "In a great division with a lot of great pass rushers, he’s solid week in and week out. Bobby Massie is solid as well, Kyle Long is solid as well. They’ve got a great offensive line and a great young quarterback. They should be pretty good this year.”

Sick Bay

Gabriel (foot), cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin), tight end Dion Sims (concussion) and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (hamstring) notably missed practice. Lynch has been injured since the first practice of training camp, and Nagy admitted on Sunday he had some setbacks but is “back on track and he’ll be ready to go.” 

Quote of the Day

Danny Trevathan returned to Denver for the first time since celebrating his Super Bowl 50 win, and offered this when asked of his favorite memories of playing on the practice fields here:

"Picking off Peyton (Manning)," Trevathan said with a massive grin. "Getting my name yelled out a couple times, who is this guy, who's 59, get him off the field. But just creating memories you know? Getting on Peyton's nerves ... seeing Peyton start practice over, seeing DeMarcus (Ware) and Peyton talking up close one on one, just little stuff like that you remember. Guys working hard to get to a common goal."