More than anything, Bears counting on Year 1 to 2 jumps to reach next level


More than anything, Bears counting on Year 1 to 2 jumps to reach next level

INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Ditka once declared that rookie cornerback Donnell Woolford “apparently can’t cover anybody.”

Buddy Ryan stated matter-of-factly after the 1980 season that too many defensive problems were because “that rookie No. 55 [Otis Wilson] just didn’t get it.”

Woolford apparently could cover somebody, and Wilson ultimately did get it, both players going on to very successful Bears careers and Pro Bowls.

Adrian Amos, Eddie Goldman and other very, very young Bears may or may not make Pro Bowls. But they already have figured prominently in Bears offseason personnel deliberations, and coach John Fox is not expected anytime soon to muse, “that No. 91 (Goldman) apparently can’t stop anybody.”

Just the opposite, in fact, and that is a critical underpinning of the Bears’ 2016 offseason.

When Fox succeeded Marc Trestman as head coach, the Bears were in disarray and needing a rebuild makeover. After a 6-10 season marked by demoralizing breakdowns in the second half of 2015, particularly on a defense already converted to a 3-4 scheme, Fox and his staff are faced with starting over — again.

Not so fast.

The plethora of needs on virtually every stratum of the defense – line, linebacker, cornerback, safety – has naturally suggested multiple crises. But some Bears struggles involved Amos in the deep secondary, Goldman at the point of attack in the middle, Hroniss Grasu staffing that middle on offense, even Kevin White never seeing the field in a year when the Bears could barely field a nickel wideout package.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

The expectations of Year 2 from all of those players, as much as any free agent or draft pick, hold the key to 2016.

I think we made a lot of changes last year,” Fox said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think we went from one of the older rosters in the NFL — that includes offense, defense, special teams — and became a younger roster. It's no mystery we had a lot of younger players play on defense this year and extensively.

“The thing that sometimes I think people get lost about is the improvement of that player from a freshman to a sophomore, from Year One to Year Two, whether it's in a particular system or just in NFL football and how to view NFL offenses. It's a full-time job now. It's not a part-time job like college football. There are a lot of things that go into the preparation in being the best, how to do it, as far as film study, opponent study that these guys will just take off from in my experience from Year One to Year Two.”

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.

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen's rookie season with the Chicago Bears was an impressive blend of running, receiving and special teams play. He quickly became a household name. The combination of his diminutive frame and oversized personality made him a fan favorite, especially when he started gaining yards in chunks.

    In fact, of all running backs with a minimum of 80 carries last season, Cohen had the highest percentage of runs that went for 15 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Cohen will have a big role in new coach Matt Nagy's offense this season because of everything he offers a play-caller. He's a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield and can chew up yards on the ground like any traditional running back. He's a hold-your-breath talent who can turn a bad play into a touchdown in the blink of an eye.

    Cohen had 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns in what can be described as a limited role last year. John Fox and Dowell Loggains didn't seem to ever figure out how to best use Cohen's skill set. That should be no issue for Nagy and Mark Helfrich, the team's new offensive coordinator, who both bring a creative offensive approach to Chicago.

    Jordan Howard will be the starter and will do most of the heavy lifting. But Cohen is going to have a much bigger role than he had as a rookie, and that should result in more big plays and points on the board.