Tarik Cohen is a budding superstar for the Chicago Bears not only because of his dazzling highlight-reel plays on Sundays but also because of his off-field personality and light-hearted approach to the game.
He reported to Bears camp with the rest of the team's veterans Thursday and showed reporters the two items he claimed were all he brought to Bourbonnais:
Nice try, Tarik.
The Chicago Bears won the 2018 offseason. General manager Ryan Pace made several headline-grabbing moves that focused on rebuilding an offense that finished as one of the NFL's worst in 2017.
The biggest changes come at wide receiver where Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller were added in free agency and the NFL draft. All three will be big-time contributors in coach Matt Nagy's offense. And don't forget about former first-round pick Kevin White. He's had a great offseason and may finally be ready to become the player Pace envisioned when he selected him seventh overall in 2015.
Pace and the Bears have been praised for their efforts since free agency and now, on the eve of training camp, the new-look offense is regarded as one of the top-10 offensive arsenals in the NFL. But it's not necessarily the new names that have outlets like ESPN so excited. Instead, it's the return of one of the league's top young backfields that gives Chicago a leg up on the competition.
What pushes the Bears up these rankings is their one-two punch at halfback. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will combine to post a cap hit of about $1.4 million in 2018 and might very well project to be the best pair of running backs in football, if Ingram and Kamara slip. Cohen's versatility seems far more likely to be rewarded by Nagy than it was by departed offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.
The Bears' running game was effective in 2017 even without a downfield passing threat. Howard finished the year sixth in rushing and was facing stacked boxes week in and week out. When factoring talents like Robinson, Gabriel and Burton into a more creative passing attack this season, the upside -- all around -- for Chicago's offense is higher than it's been in many, many years.
Tarik Cohen has a chance to become a special player for the Bears, both on and off the field. His dynamic athleticism and larger-than-life personality have superstar potential, and with a bigger role in Matt Nagy's offense this season, he setting up to be Chicago's biggest headliner.
Cohen will be given every chance to carve out his niche in the Bears' offense early in the year. He'll be used in a variety of ways by Nagy as a runner and receiver, and it won't simply be as a gadget player. Nagy spoke highly of Cohen's ability to run both inside and outside, so expect traditional running plays to be on his call sheet when Cohen is in the game, too.
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What really separates Cohen from any other running back on the roster is his ability to run routes like a skilled wide receiver. He's arguably the team's biggest mismatch; there's no linebacker or safety in the NFL that can cover him in space. Cohen has been compared to Darren Sproles because of his height (or lack thereof) and overall skill set, and it's a fair assessment.
In 2011, Sproles, then a member of the Saints, ran for 603 yards and added another 710 as a receiver. He scored nine total touchdowns in a stat line that seems very much within reach for Cohen in 2018. Essentially, Cohen's production from his rookie season could double.
And don't forget about his electrifying skill set as a kick returner. He's been recognized this offseason as one of the NFL's best young return men because of his 855 total return yards last year.
Cohen is so critically important to the Bears' success this year for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, he will be Nagy's superhero for the offense. If a big play is needed, it's Cohen who will be at the top of his list to target. And if he delivers for Nagy and builds confidence within the coaching staff, his role will only continue to grow.