Bears Planning Balance In Cohen's Workload

August 28, 2018 - 4:16 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- While the Bears have added four new promising receiving targets for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the most interesting weapon in their arsenal is a familiar face: the versatile Tarik Cohen.

Cohen broke out last September in the first game of his rookie season, unleashed on the Falcons from behind the curtain to the tune of 113 yards of total offense, eight receptions and a touchdown. He lined up at running back, ran routes as a running back and returned punts.

The arrival of coach Matt Nagy to the Bears sparked curiosity of what Cohen's role would entail in his second season. Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill -- whom Nagy utilized well in Kansas City -- said the Bears had their own Tyreek in Tarik. Even Nagy seemed genuinely curious of Cohen when he first took office at Halas Hall.

Plans for Cohen are in store with the regular-season opener looming at Lambeau Field on Sept. 9, but he will be managed with care.

"He's going to have a very big role in this offense," Nagy said. "Everybody knows that. That's no secret. But our job as an offense is to balance that and make sure we don't do too much. I do not want to run this kid into the ground. I want to make sure when we have him, it's efficient, he's productive. 

"We don't want to give him brain freeze because we're giving him too much stuff to do. So I think that's very important that (offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich) and myself really stay on top of that. But what a special talent and a great kid."

Assuming the 23-year-old Cohen can carry his comfort with the offense to the game field, he should expect to see a larger role in the passing game a year after being targeted 71 times. That mark ranked 10th among all NFL running backs in 2017. Cohen was especially limited in the running game last season, reaching double-digit rushes just three time in that offense.

The workload for Cohen decreased midway through last season when then-offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains struggled to assert him into the right matchups. Between an improved offense and a more aggressive play-caller in Nagy, the main limit for Cohen's carry total should be due to preservation.

Cohen is unique because of his 5-foot-6, 181-pound frame and electric playmaking abilities. Known as "The Human Joystick," he lived up to that moniker as a rookie with 87 rushes for 370 yards and 53 receptions for 353 yards. He had two rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown, a punt return touchdown and even threw a touchdown pass.

Cohen hasn't seen much of a role this preseason, with no rushes and one reception. Nagy and the Bears aren't concealing Cohen the way the previous coaching staff did last August. Instead, they're trying to ensure he's ready to run.

"Now, everybody kind of knows about me," Cohen said. "They know about the things I'm going to be doing, being versatile and just being everywhere in the offense.

"The defenses know who I am now to a certain extent. They'll really play me the same way."

The Bears went to work this season to add pieces around Trubisky. Receiver Allen Robinson, tight end Trey Burton and receiver Taylor Gabriel were the team's top free-agent signings, while rookie receiver Anthony Miller was selected late in the second round after the Bears traded back to select him.

After Trubisky struggled with a poor supporting cast a year ago, the Bears have added pieces to Nagy's offense with the hopes it benefits him. But even with so much change, the fascination with Cohen still remains strong.

"He's a pretty unique guy," Robinson said. "He's a guy who can do everything. I saw some of the best set of hands that I saw from Tarik. I mean, he catches everything, he can run routes, he can run the ball, he can return kicks. He does it all. When you have a pretty unique skill set like that, it's fun to watch."

Extra points

-- The Bears will once again rest their starters for the preseason finale against the Bills on Thursday, with Nagy announcing that third-string quarterback Tyler Bray will lead the offense. Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith likely won't be a part of that exhibition action as he continues to work through hamstring tightness.

"We’ll keep continuing to monitor it and if we feel like he’s in a spot where we think it makes more sense to go in there and get him some reps, then we’ll do that," Nagy said. "That will be a day-to-day type thing. I would love to, I would love to get him out there. I just don’t know if that’s where we’re going to be.”

-- The most notable position battle remaining for the Bears is at left guard, where veteran Eric Kush and rookie James Daniels are competing for the starting spot. A number of opinions will be factored into that decision, Nagy said, including offensive line coach Harry Hiestand's thoughts.

-- Second-year tight end Adam Shaheen is in a walking boot for his injured right foot/ankle injury. Nagy couldn't provide a more specific update as the Bears still work through second opinions a week later.

-- Rosters around the league will be cut to 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday. Nagy is prepared for his part of that as a first-year head coach.

"We're all humans, we're all people," he said. "The way I deal with it is pure honesty. I just try to tell them this is where I'm at, this is why you got cut. It doesn't mean, for a lot of these guys, as everyone in here knows, they get a chance to come back here." 

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.