Tarik Cohen served as the Bears’ pass-blocking running back in his first NFL game, but only because Benny Cunningham got hurt.
“In certain situations, he’s not ready to handle the burden of everything,” then-offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.
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In Week 10, after Cunningham played more than double Cohen’s 13 snaps in a loss to the Packers, then-coach John Fox explained the rookie’s blocking struggles.
“It’s just that we’ve got a lot on his plate,” Fox said, “and that plate is getting heavier.”
It was notable, then, that Charles London, Cohen’s new running backs coach, said Wednesday that there was “no doubt” the second-year running back could serve as the Bears’ third-down back this season, even with Cunningham still in the fold.
“He’ll stick his nose in there and protect,” London said. “He understands protections. He understands route-running. So I wouldn’t put it past him. He can do a lot of things.
“He’s a thick-built guy. He’s got a thick upper body, a thick lower body. He understands pass protections. Now, obviously, we haven’t been able to go out there and do it live, so we’ll have to do a lot of that in training camp. But I don’t see anything that shouldn’t keep him from being a pass protector.”
No one comes to Soldier Field to watch a 5-6 running back block. But as the Bears begin to sort through exactly how to use Cohen — as a running back, receiver, gadget player, returner or, more likely, a combination of all four — it is clear that they’ll need him to hold his own against pass rushers.
“We’re learning his skill set,” London said. “He’s a very versatile player, and we’re gonna put him in as many spots as we can. We’re going to really give him as much as he can handle. And he’s proven he can handle a lot.”
Cohen said he’ll be prepared.
“That’s the main thing — if you’re going to be all over the field, you have to have conditioning,” he said. “You can’t get tired out too easy because you never know when your name’s going to get called.”
During organized team activities, which London has described as “mostly a passing camp,” Cohen has worked on receiving subtleties, from route running to reading coverages to determining defensive back leverage. Reading coverage, London said, has been Cohen’s biggest leap forward the last two months.
In his first full NFL offseason, Cohen has focused on consistency, and not just on the field.
“Building a schedule, doing things day in and day out,” he said. “Like having the same schedule — come in from practice, eat a good breakfast. After practice you do the same rehab you need to do.”
He hopes his schedule is busy in September. He’ll get more opportunities if he can block.
“You see a versatile, dynamic player who’s a threat to score any time he touches the ball,” London said. “Some of the things he does out there is just out of pure instinct and ability. It’s pretty impressive.”