An aggressive offseason and the hiring of Matt Nagy has the Chicago Bears offense in position to make enormous strides in 2018, and there really shouldn’t be anybody more excited about that than Tarik Cohen.
Yes, these moves are all in an effort to build around second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, but we should all have gradually escalating expectations of what to expect from the former No. 2 overall pick in the fall. Cohen, on the other hand, is positioned to become a catalyst immediately.
Given what we know about Andy Reid’s influence on Nagy and Nagy’s influence on the Andy Reid offense in 2017, Cohen will serve a very particular purpose in this offense and just about every move made this offseason enhances the importance of that purpose in one way or another.
Allen Robinson is the outside threat that will require the safeties to widen out and help beyond the hashes. Taylor Gabriel is the vertical presence to stretch the seam and soften things up underneath.
Meanwhile, Trey Burton is the move tight end who will be shifted across the formation to identify coverages and to exploit smaller safeties and slower linebackers. Then Cohen will be used in a variety of ways to attempt to create the biggest mismatches of all.
Both as a traditional running back and as a receiver (out of the backfield and likely from inside the slot), Cohen is the guy who is going to be most problematic for opposing defenses to stop. The entire system is designed to force defenses to make a series of decisions that will eventually leave somebody in a winnable one-on-one situation.
Willing to play single high? Robinson is going to feast on the outside. Playing Cover 2? Gabriel is going to split those safeties and make you pay. Go with Cover 4 and Cohen is going to make your linebackers look silly in space in the middle of the field… and so on and so forth.
Nagy’s version of the West Coast offense is chess at a breakneck pace. Trubisky is the king to be protected at all costs and all those offseason additions are highly valuable knights and rooks.
However, Cohen is the queen because he can attack from all angles and in any direction. The only real rub with his game is that he’s a diminutive player at 5-foot-6 and 179 pounds.
Yet, he’ll almost never be lined up in a position where a nickelback or a linebacker can get their hands on him off the line of scrimmage to take advantage of their size and reroute him. And every indication is that he’s going to be given the ball in favorable situations to make defenders miss.
Jordan Howard will likely still anchor the power running game — the hard-charging pawn with potential to cross the board and become a queen in any week, if you will) — but Cohen should see the field at the same time as Howard in certain instances.
He’ll also frequently see action against a light front where he can take advantage of his surprising ability between the tackles on second- and third-and-manageables. That’s to say nothing of his return ability either.
Cohen touched the ball 142 times offensively in 2017 (87 rush attempts, 53 receptions and 2 pass attempts). He added 55 return attempts for a total of 197 opportunities with the football in his hands as a rookie.
Barring injury, there’s no reason that number shouldn’t surge past 250 in 2018. As long as that number doesn’t become solely reliant on him being the primary ballcarrier, the Bears will be better for it, too.
Of course there are still questions about this Chicago offense. Trubisky has to show he’s making clear progress in order to keep the eager naysayers at bay and the offensive line still needs work.
They need to build more depth at wide receiver and they’ll need to generally take better care of the football in an offense that will likely ask that they take even more chances. However, the excitement surrounding this group is warranted despite finishing 29th in scoring offense last year.
That’s largely based on the fact that for the first time in a long time (possibly ever), they’ve created a unit that can be manipulative rather than reactionary. Tarik Cohen is probably the single most important element to that manipulation because of his versatility.
Which is why we’ll be watching him so closely.
He’ll earn Tyreek Hill comparisons all offseason which isn’t an entirely accurate representation of what he’ll be tasked with. However, it is appropriate on at least one critically-important level.
Cohen will be asked to be dangerous for the Bears offensively in a number of unconventional ways. And he should be elated by that because everything we’ve seen thus far indicates that it’s a role he was born to play.