Some around Halas Hall believe Bears are getting 'all the pieces in place'

Some around Halas Hall believe Bears are getting 'all the pieces in place'

Prior to the 1996 season, coming off a 9-7 year and near-miss of the playoffs, then-coach Dave Wannstedt didn’t back away from how he felt about the coming year:

“All the pieces are in place,” he told Chicago Tribune writer Don Pierson.

And they might have been, for maybe three weeks, before quarterback Erik Kramer was lost to what was effectively a broken neck. The pieces ended up in, well, pieces.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is not issuing a full declaration that the pieces are again in place. But with the return of Pro Bowl guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton, nickel receiver Eddie Royal, plus presumably nose tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerback Bryce Callahan on the defensive side, Cutler knows something of how Wannstedt was feeling.

“Offensively we’ve kind of got all our pieces back together,” Cutler said on Thursday. “We’re getting the full deck back together again, which is going to make it easier for the play-callers, diagramming stuff and guys making plays for us.”

The one piece of the offense still missing is wide receiver Kevin White, leading the team in catches before suffering a broken leg in the Detroit game. Running back Jeremy Langford has returned from a high-ankle sprain to find Jordan Howard playing better than he was and ensconced as the starter in a play-the-hot-hand backfield.

The pieces-in-place feeling has filtered into the defense with the impact return of rush linebacker Pernell McPhee and rookie Leonard Floyd shaking off injuries that cost him two games, coming back with three sacks in his last two games.

“You have to understand that those guys were the guys who were on the field initially,” said defensive end Akiem Hicks. “You expect him to return and when he does, you expect to be better because of it.”

None of which was meant to denigrate the work of the reserves. The play of multiple subs like Will Sutton at nose tackle was strong, and leaves the depth chart fortified even as Sutton, guards Ted Larsen and Eric Kush and others return to reserve roles.

“Those two [guards] deserve a lot of credit as well, getting themselves ready to play,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “But obviously any time you get your original guy, your original starters out there, it’s a big plus.”

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.