Acho is Payton nominee
As the Bears continue their preparations for Sunday’s game against the Bengals, here’s what else we learned Thursday in Lake Forest. Sam Acho is the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
For the second consecutive season Acho is being recognized as a nominee for the award, which will be presented at the NFL Honors show on Super Bowl weekend in Minneapolis. The Man of the Year award, which has been given out since 1970 and was renamed in Payton’s honor in 1999, recognizes players who make a significant positive impact in the community.
In addition to his community work in Chicago, Acho also is actively involved with his family’s Living Hope Christian Ministries charity. Included in that work is an annual trip to Africa to assist those needing medical help. Acho says the trip is always perspective-altering.
“If you just look at your life in a bubble, it’s easy to complain,” the linebacker said. “It’s easy to cry about a lot of things. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. But if you open your eyes a little bit and just take a step outside your shoes … you get a chance to see what real struggle looks like.”
The NFL’s 32 nominees for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award will be narrowed to three finalists next month. The Bears asked the league to review the illegal block in the back call against Ben Braunecker that negated Tarik Cohen’s 67-yard punt return against the 49ers.
As much as has been made of Cohen’s dazzling 61-yard touchdown return Sunday, the 67-yarder that didn’t count may have been equally significant.
At the time, the Bears led 14-12 and Cohen’s return would have set the offense up at the 49ers 16 with 10 minutes, 39 seconds to play. Instead, after Braunecker’s penalty, the Bears took over at their own 14, a 70-yard difference in field position.
Asked whether he thought Braunecker committed a clear infraction, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers would say only that the Bears turned the play into the league for clarification.
Braunecker made contact with 49ers long snapper Kyle Murphy right as Cohen turned the corner on the play. Rodgers was certain the block — illegal or not — was not the reason Cohen broke free, even with Murphy’s tackling talents.
“He is, in my opinion, the best coverage long snapper in the league,” Rodgers said. “He's a really good athlete who has made tackles in space. (But) one-on-one with Tarik Cohen in the open field? I like Tarik's chances.”
It also is worth noting the flag was not thrown immediately and was tossed from the opposite sideline after Cohen had crossed midfield, a good 40 yards into his return. The Bears must get resourceful to stimulate their pass rush.
Pernell McPhee came out of last week’s game with a shoulder injury and has yet to practice this week. Fellow outside linebackers Willie Young and Leonard Floyd are on injured reserve. That leaves the Bears heading to Cincinnati with Acho and Lamarr Houston as their top edge rushers. Christian Jones is working with that position group after playing most of this season at inside linebacker.
The Bears also are depleted on the defensive line with Mitch Unrein placed on IR on Tuesday and Eddie Goldman (hip) out of practice the last two days. Coordinator Vic Fangio was asked if the injury epidemic frustrated him.
“A carpenter never blames his tools,” Fangio said. “He just finds a way to get the thing built.”