Chicago Bears

Tarik Cohen and the NFL's rookie running backs had quite the Week 1

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USA TODAY

Tarik Cohen and the NFL's rookie running backs had quite the Week 1

Last year the NFL's two leading rushers, Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott and the Bears' Jordan Howard, were rookies.

That may not happen in 2017, but this year's crop of rookie running backs sure got off to a hot start.

That included Howard's backup, as Tarik Cohen made quite the debut in the Bears' 23-17 loss to the Falcons. The 5-foot-6 Cohen caught eight passes for 47 yards and a touchdown and rushed five times for 66 yards. It was quite the coming out party for Cohen and gives the Bears a solid young 1-2 punch in the backfield.

Here's how Cohen stacked up against some other rookie running backs who had stellar debuts (listed by round selected):

Leonard Fournette, Jaguars (1st round): The Texans knew the Jaguars had little to offer in the passing game, yet Fournette still ran with ease. The No. 4 pick rushed 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown, while also catching three passes for 24 yards.

Christan McCaffrey, Panthers (1st round): Jonathan Stewart actually had a better Sunday afternoon, but McCaffrey still showed flashes. The No. 8 pick had 13 rushes for 47 yards and added five receptions fo 38 yards. He did lose a fumble but it didn't mean much in a 23-3 Panthers victory.

Dalvin Cook, Vikings (2nd round): Cook made Vikings history on Monday night, rushing for 127 yards on 22 rushes and adding three receptions. The rushing yards were the most for a Vikings running back in his debut, topping Adrian Peterson's 103 yards in 2007.

Alvin Kamara, Saints (3rd round): Kamara's numbers weren't great (seven rushes for 18 yards, 4 receptions for 20 yards) but he led the Saints in carries, rushing yards and snaps played (41). That includes Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram. The three-headed monster didn't mean much in their Monday Night Football thumping in Minnesota, but Kamara looked solid and Sean Payton clearly trusts him.

Kareem Hunt, Chiefs (3rd round): Whoa. The NFL regular season began with Hunt putting together one of the best debuts in NFL history. Hunt ran 17 times for 148 yards and a touchdown, and added five receptions for 98 yards and two scores. He lost a fumble on his first carry (after never doing so in college) but more than made up for it in perhaps the top performance of the week.

Marlon Mack, Colts (4th round): The Colts looked abysmal in their Week 1 loss to the Rams. Mack had an up-and-down afternoon, scoring on a 3-yard run but also committing a fumble that resulted in a safety. We'll throw him in here because he accounted for the Colts' only score in a 46-9 loss.

Chris Carson, Seahawks (7th round): In a backfield touting Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls (inactive) and C.J. Prosise, the rookie Carson looked the best in a loss to the Packers. he rushed six times for 39 yards, playing more snaps (26) than Prosise and Lacy combined (23). A terrible performance from Seattle's offensive line prevented Carson from doing much else.

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?