Chicago Bears

Akiem Hicks explains what makes Tarik Cohen such an explosive playmaker

Akiem Hicks explains what makes Tarik Cohen such an explosive playmaker

Midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday, Tarik Cohen caught a swing pass in open space with just one defender — Atlanta Falcons rookie linebacker Riley Duke — to beat. 

Watching from the sideline, defensive end Akiem Hicks knew what was coming, and it wasn’t going to show up on Duke’s season highlight reel. Duke lunged to try to tackle the 5-foot-6, 181 pound running back, but Cohen deftly shed the effort and accelerated forward. It was something Hicks saw Cohen do plenty in practice over the last few weeks, so he had some sympathy for Duke in that situation. 

“His mom’s watching too,” Hicks laughed. “I felt bad for him. I knew he was going to miss.”

The Bears kept their plan for Cohen out of the public eye in August, not targeting him during preseason games and only giving him one carry in their Week 3 dress rehearsal against the Tennessee Titans. But behind the scenes, Hicks and the Bears defense saw the potential Cohen had to be unleashed as a playmaker. What he did in his NFL debut, then, was no surprise. 

“I’ve seen it a bunch,” Hicks said. “I’ve seen it one too many times in training camp. I can only imagine that he’s going to be a special player in this league.” 

That shiftiness and quickness had a greater impact than landing Cohen on a highlight reel or gaining a few extra yards, though: They also set up Cohen’s two most spectacular plays on Sunday.

On Cohen’s 46-yard cut-back run, he said he knew the Falcons’ defense had over-pursued him on sweep play earlier in the game. So when the Bears ran the play again, Cohen saw the Falcons sell out to the boundary to stop him — which he knew left the field side clear. So Cohen stopped, cut back and dashed across the field in a play reminiscent of a Dante Hall punt return, gouging the Falcons’ defense and setting up a game-tying touchdown just before halftime. 

And when Cohen caught a fourth quarter pass from Mike Glennon in the red zone with one defender to beat — cornerback Desmond Trufant — all those spins and jukes from earlier in the game paid off in a different way. Cohen, instead of making one of those moves, lowered his shoulder into Trufant and bowled through him to get in the end zone. 

“The beautiful thing is Trufant couldn’t really get up on him because he was afraid that Tarik was going to make a move,” Hicks said. “So if you get a guy scared of your first move — whether it’s in pass rush or blocking as an offensive lineman or any position — when you get a guy scared of your first move, it opens up a lot more. And that’s why he was able to run him over.”

That’s the kind of stuff Cohen did to the Bears defense in August — and it’s the kind of stuff that’s now a problem for the rest of the league. 

“You can hear the chatter, you know what I mean, going through training camp where guys get matched up on him are saying, ‘Oh man, here we go,’” Hicks said. “And that’s a great feeling, because you know he’s not torturing us any more. He’s torturing other defenses.”

Can Markus Wheaton fix what ails the Bears’ offense?

Can Markus Wheaton fix what ails the Bears’ offense?

Markus Wheaton was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and wasn’t on the Bears’ injury report Thursday, signaling that the 5-foot-11, 189 pound speedster will make his Bears debut Sunday against his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s not the solution for the Bears’ offense, but he could be part of it. 

For an offense that’s woefully lacked someone who can reliably stretch the field, Wheaton can at least provide the threat of going deep. Two years ago, while with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wheaton averaged 17 yards per reception. Mike Glennon’s longest completion this year went for 22 yards. 

“It definitely adds another dimension,” Glennon said. “It’ll be great having Markus back.”

But Wheaton only played in three games last season (four catches, 51 yards) and, at his best, averaged 48 catches, 696 yards and four touchdowns a year from 2014-2015. Is it fair to expect Wheaton to be a big part of the Bears' offensive solution given he hasn't played much recently, and was limited to only a handful of reps in training camp and preseason practices due to a pair of freak ailments?

Maybe not, but with the Bears 0-2, he's the best hope they have at a skill position. 

Wheaton needed an emergency appendectomy the first weekend the Bears were in Bourbonnais — “I thought I had to poop,” Wheaton said, maybe providing too much information, before realizing the excruiating pain in which he was in was something worse. Shortly after returning to the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University, Wheaton fractured his pinkie finger in gruesome fashion (he said the bone was sticking out) when he was awkwardly grabbed while trying to catch a pass. 

That Wheaton broke a finger wasn’t only significant for his ability to catch passes. Consider what his former quarterback — Ben Roethlisberger — had to say about what makes Wheaton an effective deep threat:

“He’s got a very good ability of using his hands,” Roethlisberger said. “When you’re trying to stretch the field, you’ve gotta have some little techniques to help you get open because DBs can run as much as receivers can. So you gotta be able to use your hands to swim, kinda, get some swiping, get the hands off, I thought that he really had some good technique when it came to the deep ball and getting away from DBs.”

Roethlisberger and Wheaton shared a good rapport in Pittsburgh, with the quarterback clearly communicating to the receiver what he expected timing-wise in his routes. It’s been a challenge to develop something similar with Glennon given the lack of practice time, but Wheaton said putting in extra work after practice has helped. 

If Wheaton and Glennon can get on the same page, perhaps that can lead to at least some deep ball attempts. The Bears have to find a way to prevent opposing defenses from stacking the box and focusing on stopping Jordan Howard, who only has 59 yards on 22 carries this year. 

“We're going to face overpopulated boxes, we know that,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “There's going to be seven, eight guys in the box every time and we have to execute better and it comes down to that.”

According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, only three of Glennon’s 85 pass attempts have traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The only completion of those was Sunday’s garbage-time touchdown to Deonte Thompson, which was caught near the back of the end zone. 

The threat of Wheaton going deep won’t be enough, though. Glennon still has prove he can complete those deep balls — the last time he completed a pass of 25 or more yards was on Nov. 2, 2014 (though he’s only attempted 96 passes since that date). 

But Wheaton feels ready to go and is confident he can do his job — which, in turn, could, in a best-case scenario, help his other 10 teammates on offense do their jobs, too. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” Wheaton said. “I’m excited and hopefully this is the week.”

Kris Bryant is all aboard the Mitch Trubisky bandwagon


Kris Bryant is all aboard the Mitch Trubisky bandwagon

Count Kris Bryant among the Chicagoans who are calling for Mitch Trubisky to start at quarterback for the Bears.

OK, that may be a bit extreme as Bryant simply said he would supporting giving Trubisky a "shot", but still:

After a rough game for incumbent starting QB Mike Glennon last week, most of Chicago has been clamoring for the No. 2 overall pick to get some snaps under center.

Why wouldn't the crown prince of Chicago baseball get in on the noise?