Huge for the Bears, he’s just 5-foot-6
LAKE FOREST, ILL.
During a recent practice,
Tarik Cohen caught a punt. Still clutching the ball, he proceeded to catch another. And another. And another. And another. And another.
By the end of this wacky experiment, Cohen was cradling seven balls — one, roughly, for every role he has with the Chicago Bears.
Cohen is — OK, deep breath — the Bears’ handoff-taking, punt-returning, ball-catching, pass-throwing, mismatch-creating, gasp-inducing, highlight-monopolizing cyborg. A year after becoming the first rookie since Gale Sayers, a former
Bear, in 1965, to contribute touchdowns by running, receiving, passing and punt return, Cohen has further obliterated concerns that a 5-foot-6 running back from the humble Football Championship Subdivision would struggle transitioning to the NFL’s rugged NFC North.
If the quarterback-wrecking edge rusher Khalil Mack embodies a defense that has fueled the Bears’ worst-to-first ascent — as the NFC’s third seed, they'll face the No. 6-seeded Eagles in the wild-card round Sunday, their first playoff appearance since 2010 — Cohen personifies the offense installed by the
team’s first-year coach, Matt Nagy: creative, unpredictable and, at times, downright fun.
Nagy has maximized Cohen’s speed, suddenness and receiving skills by aligning him around the formation, from the backfield to the inside to the outside, turning him into, in effect, Chicago’s offensive version of Mack: the player opponents must stalk wherever he is on the field. He led the team in catches (71), yards from scrimmage (1,169) and all-purpose yardage (1,599), and was voted into the Pro Bowl as a return specialist.
“He’s got a lot of strengths and not a lot of weaknesses,” Nagy said. “Having him be a part of what we do and what we scheme is a huge advantage.”
Soon after the Bears hired Nagy away from Kansas City, where he served for five seasons on Andy Reid’s staff, Cohen heard that last season the Chiefs featured three players who gained more than 1,000 yards: receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt. Cohen did not know when or how he would get the ball in Chicago, he said, only that he would.
“Get me the ball and get me in space,” Cohen said.
That just might be his motto. His 170 touches rank second on the team, behind Jordan Howard, the primary rusher. As a runner, Cohen has the seventh-best breakaway percentage in the NFL, gaining 44.4 percent of his 444 yards on carries of at least 15 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. As a receiver, Cohen averages 10.2 yards per reception, most among the 20 backs with at least 40 catches, according to Pro Football Reference.
As the position has evolved, a hybridized strain of running back has permeated the league, players as comfortable with, and capable of, lining up in the slot or being split wide as they are rushing 20 times per game.
Chicago running back Tarik Cohen hauls in a catch in East Rutherford, N.J.