Chicago Bears

'I don’t give a damn about his stature:' Tarik Cohen shows why he can be a game-changing playmaker

'I don’t give a damn about his stature:' Tarik Cohen shows why he can be a game-changing playmaker

The last time Tarik Cohen caught a pass in a game before Sunday, he was playing out of the national spotlight for North Carolina A&T. That created some problems for an Atlanta Falcons defense trying to scrounge up any sort of film on the rookie running back. 

“He didn’t have any catches in the preseason, so we didn’t have a great sense for it,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. So Atlanta had to go back to Cohen's college tape to see what kind of a pass-catcher he could be. 

Not only did Cohen not have a catch in his three preseason games, he wasn’t even targeted. The Bears were hiding him and developing plays for him behind the scenes in Bourbonnais and Lake Forest. Those plays were unleashed on Sunday, and will give defensive coordinators plenty to think about as the Bears move forward in 2017. 

“The secret’s out on what we have in him,” quarterback Mike Glennon said. “We knew how good he was going to be with us and he showed that today. His very first game in the NFL, and he did it all. He ran the ball, caught the ball and scored a touchdown. He’s a playmaker and we’re lucky to have him. He’s going to continue to be a big part of our offense.”

Cohen caught eight passes for 47 yards with a touchdown, and rushed five times for 66 yards. He was targeted a team-high 12 times on a day when no other player was targeted more than six times (tight end Zach Miller). The Bears’ receiving corps was targeted a total of 14 times. 

“I knew it was coming,” Cohen said. “It was in the gameplan and I felt like I would have a good matchup for the whole game. That was really why we did that.”

There was more to Cohen’s game than showed up in the box score, though. He was used early and often, and took a number of physical shots from Falcons defenders who seemed to relish the opportunity to batter the 5-foot-6, 181 pound running back. He kept popping back up, though — “I’m used to taking hits,” Cohen said — and then flashed his own physicality on a 19-yard touchdown reception on which he lowered his shoulder into Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant to get in the end zone. 

“He took shot after shot and he’s the first one up, (saying) ‘Let’s go. Do it again,’” Miller said. “That’s a man. I don’t give a damn about his stature. That dude is a real-life NFL football player.”

Gushed wide receiver Josh Bellamy: “He’s not scared of nothing. He’s not scared, that’s the thing we love about him. He’s tough. He’s small, but he’s tough, he’s got the heart of a lion. And he’s going to run the ball. He doesn’t care what size you are, he’s coming.”

Cohen was at his best, too, when the Bears needed a response to a Falcons touchdown. His 46-yard run — that one where he cut back across the field, "Chicken Salad" style, against an over-pursuing defense — set up Jordan Howard’s game-tying touchdown late in the first half. And to get Howard in the end zone, Cohen took a snap out of a Wildcat formation and handed the ball off. 

After Austin Hooper’s 88-yard fourth quarter touchdown muted the crowd at Soldier Field, it was Cohen who got the Bears back within three points with his first career touchdown. 

“He helped carry our football team through the whole game,” Miller said. 

With so many questions about the Bears’ passing offense — which only mounted with the report Kevin White may be lost for the season — Cohen was a bright spot. Whether he should’ve been on the field for more than one play when the Bears were at the Falcons’ goal line late in the game is a fair question, given what he showed throughout the day Sunday. 

The Bears haven’t had a player as exciting to watch as Cohen since, arguably, Devin Hester. How he’s used the rest of the season will be fascinating to follow, but after Week 1, Cohen left Soldier Field feeling positive about what he accomplished. 

“Just the fact I was able to make plays — (I’m) not really caught up on the stats, how many rushing yards I had, how many receiving yards,” Cohen said of what he liked of his performance. “Just the fact I was able to be accountable when my number was called on.” 

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

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AP

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?