It says something about the rebuilding Bears that we’re wondering how their next opponent plans to neutralize a fourth-round draft pick who made his NFL debut last week. But it says much, much more about fun.
Tarik Cohen is fun. Fun is good.
There hasn’t been fun around the Bears in quite a while, and, OK, you’re right, there hasn’t been much good, either. But perhaps somewhere down the line, if the rebuild turns a corner, the two can work hand in hand.
Against the Falcons on Sunday, Cohen ran five times for 66 yards, caught eight passes for 47 yards and a touchdown and returned three punts for 45 yards. But the numbers that really stick out are five and six, as in 5-foot-6. It’s why Cohen has become a darling of social media, why his nickname is The Human Joystick and why his big plays look bigger than other players’ big plays.
Small is fun. When Cohen stands in the huddle, you wonder if one of the Bears’ offensive linemen will pick him up and use him as a deodorant stick. Then he gets his hands on the football, and the chance for something larger than life announces itself.
“I feel bigger than everybody on the field,’’ he said Wednesday.
That we’re talking in such lofty terms about someone very few of us in Chicago knew about before the April draft is a little unsettling. The six-county area is littered with yellowed newspaper clippings of athletes we’ve regrettably hyped. Curtis Enis comes to mind. So does Felix Pie.
Is Cohen capable of being this good all the time? Are we partial to him because we naturally root for the underdog? Is it because this underdog is the size of a Boston terrier? All of this will be sorted out in the weeks and months ahead.
But for now, the Falcons game was an eye-opener.
“I feel like I just proved that I’m a player, a football player, no matter my size, no matter where I’ve come from as far as my college (North Carolina A&T). I’m just a football player, and I can make plays for this team,’’ he said.
The Bears are normally closemouthed about everything, following coach John Fox’s zipped-lip lead, but they can’t stop talking about Cohen heading into their game Sunday in Tampa.
“The secret’s out,’’ offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Everybody knows who Tarik is now. Give him a lot of credit. He played quarterback. He played slot receiver, outside receiver, running back. He’s a smart kid. The greatest asset the kid has outside the physical skills, he might be our hardest practice player. He works his tail off.
“… He’s a playmaker. The Bucs have seen the tape, and they’re going to obviously be aware of where he’s at, and they’re going to work really hard to try to take him away.’’
They already are.
“I showed our team in the team meeting this morning four plays on him, and it’s probably not too hard for you guys to guess which four,’’ Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter told Chicago reporters Wednesday.
One would be his 46-yard cutback run. Another would Cohen’s handoff from the quarterback spot to Jordan Howard for a four-yard scoring play. The 19-yard touchdown reception was nice. And there was a 15-yard run that was pretty good, too.
“Don’t look at him as 5-6 because he doesn’t look at himself that way,’’ Loggains said.
Cohen’s size is a problem when the Bears need an extra blocker, and it’s a potential problem when they send him over the middle to catch a pass. The team said one of the reasons he wasn’t on the field for three of the final four plays Sunday was because they needed more blocking.
The Bears love his effort and fearlessness, but they’ll have neither if they continue passing to him where linebackers congregate. It’s a broken bone waiting to happen.
“I don’t think he thinks that way,’’ Loggains said.
It’s the coaches’ responsibility to think that way for him.
When the Bears drafted Cohen, they were looking for a dual-threat back who could make life hellish for opponents, especially on third down. They were looking for a Darren Sproles, whom general manager Ryan Pace had worked with in New Orleans. In 2011, Sproles rushed for 603 yards and had 710 receiving yards. Many fantasy football aficionados were willing to trade their first-born children for Sproles.
Cohen is getting similar feedback via social media.
“It’s the main thing I’ve heard,’’ he said. “Some people were like, ‘I had you on the bench. I should have started you. I’m a believer now.’ ”
One game isn’t much of a sample size. On the other hand, size apparently doesn’t matter.