Midseason report card: Five things we learned from Bears assistants

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The Bears’ Tarik Cohen breaks a long run in overtime against the Steelers. (Getty Images)

Running back Jordan Howard might not have elite speed, but he’s always on time.

The Bears run outside zone plays more than anyone in the NFL — no team runs over the left tackle or tight end more often — so consistency is essential, running backs coach Curtis Modkins said.

‘‘Until you get around a guy and you get around in live action, you don’t know how they are,’’ he said of Howard, who has rushed for 88.2 yards per game. ‘‘He’s a tough, tough football player. That’s one of the top qualities you can have in a running back.’’

Here are five other things we learned this week from Bears assistant coaches, who offered a midseason report card during the bye week:

1. Tarik Cohen has a lot on his plate

The rookie running back has lined up in the slot and outside receiver spots as the Bears continue to search for pass-catchers who can gain separation.

‘‘What we’ve asked him to do is as much as I’ve asked any running back to do in my career,’’ said Curtis Modkins, who has coached for the Chiefs, Cardinals, Bills, Lions and 49ers. ‘‘The number of positions he’s had to line up and play — I’ve had guys who’ve done a couple of different positions, but he plays inside and outside on both sides. And running back.

‘‘He’s just gotta continue to learn, man. We’ve gotta continue to look for ways to put him in position to help us win.’’

The Bears’ leading punt and kick returner, Cohen is a victim of his own early success.

‘‘That’s what happens with good players: He does get a lot of attention,’’ Modkins said. ‘‘When he’s in, they know — and rightfully so.’’


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Cohen has been able to handle the responsibility.

‘‘He’s tough and strong,’’ Modkins said. ‘‘He’s built for it, mentally and physically.’’

2. Leonard Floyd was built for this

Floyd, who has five sacks in his last five games, seems custom-built to chase modern quarterbacks.

Take the first play of the fourth quarter against the Panthers. Rushing from outside the right tackle, Floyd was halfway between the right hash and the field numbers when he saw quarterback Cam Newton step up in the pocket and run left. Floyd ran across the face of two blockers and tackled Newton for a one-yard gain.

‘‘In this league, what you’re seeing with the advent of all these mobile quarterbacks is that you have to have an eraser like Leonard,’’ outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said.

Floyd will better understand angles and leverage, as well as how to chase different quarterbacks, the more he plays.

‘‘Him just understanding his own abilities relative to the player he’s playing against,’’ Staley said. ‘‘That happens over time.’’

3. Kyle Fuller is glowing

After missing a full season in the wake of arthroscopic knee surgery, the fourth-year cornerback has been the Bears’ most pleasant surprise.

‘‘I think the health was the first thing, and then he got his spirit back,’’ defensive backs coach Ed Donatell said. ‘‘You guys can see him. . . . He’s glowing.’’

Fuller also is flipping over ball carriers, including Saints running back Mark Ingram and Newton the last two weeks.

The rest of the league still doesn’t seem to fear Fuller’s coverage. The Ravens alone targeted him 15 times. Prince Amukamara, the opposite corner, has yet to be targeted in the fourth quarter all season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Still, Fuller’s improvement — he was a cut candidate early in camp — is proof that a switch sometimes can flip.

‘‘That’s what gives you hope for all your different students over the years,’’ Donatell said. ‘‘They mature at different rates. But he’s definitely a guy that, boy, he made a big spurt.’’

4. Receiver help is coming

The Bears are throwing 27.8 passes per game, last in the NFL. So, yes, receivers coach Zach Azzanni has to massage his receivers’ egos.

‘‘They are wide receivers first, but they’re also football players,’’ Azzanni said. ‘‘Don’t just be a pass-catcher. If the job is to go [block] the safety and spring Jordan Howard, that’s our job. That’s what we get paid to do. It’s not our job to call plays.’’

Dontrelle Inman, who was acquired via trade last week from the Chargers, should give the Bears the deep threat they thought they had acquired when they signed Markus Wheaton.

‘‘Long, rangy guy,’’ Azzanni said. ‘‘Good ball skills. But just a lot of range.’’

Inman’s main takeaway from a week of practicing: The wind blows the ball around in Chicago more than in Los Angeles.

5. Nick Kwiatkoski hasn’t made the leap

When Jerrell Freeman tore a chest muscle in Week 1, the Bears were excited about getting an extended look at inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. But the second-year player hurt a chest muscle in Week 2 and seems to have slipped since returning to health. He has played one defensive down in two weeks.

Inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires said Kwiatkoski was making decisions faster before the injury. He said Kwiatkoski, who’s stuck behind the less heralded Christian Jones, probably would agree.

‘‘He’s got some good examples in front of him to see what it’s supposed to look like,’’ Pires said.

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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