Tarik Cohen arguably is busier learning coach Matt Nagy’s offense than anybody except quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
The second-year running back figures to be all over the field — running inside and outside, coming out of the backfield on pass plays, pass-protecting and lining up as a wide receiver. Ideally, he’ll be a threat, a decoy and a dynamic weapon who helps keep opponents on their heels and allows the Bears’ offense to zig when the defense zags.
It’s a lot to ask of a player coming off his rookie season. But Cohen’s playmaking ability and versatility make him an ideal weapon in Nagy’s offense. The Bears aren’t babying him. They’re doing all they can to maximize him and fully coach him up so when opponents respond — as they did last year with success — the Bears will be able to respond right back.
“It’s a great thing that he has a lot to learn because that means we’re trying to get him the ball in so many different ways in this offense,” Trubisky said Wednesday before veteran minicamp practice. “But Tarik’s a really smart player; that’s the great thing about him.
‘‘Not only is he dynamic with the ball, but he understands the offense and knows how to open up his other teammates, whether it’s just doing his job or making a block or running a specific route without the ball.
“But we all know what he can do with the ball in his hands, and for him to be a smart player who understands the offense, we can pretty much line him up at any position — and he could argue he could play my spot right now, too.”
The easily excitable Cohen, who became the first NFL rookie to score a touchdown on a run, a pass reception and a punt return and throw a touchdown pass since Gale Sayers in 1965, is more than ready for the challenge.
“I just want to help the team and be an important factor in the offense,” Cohen said when asked about his own expectations for 2018. “Sort of like last year, be a player that defenses have to scheme against. I feel like I fit very well into the offense. I’m doing a little bit of everything — outside receiver, in the slot and at running back as well as special teams. I feel like this is the offense for me.”
As versatile and talented as he is, Cohen’s greatest strength might be that he learns well. He already has shown progress in the passing game with his route running, Nagy said.
“You may look like you can run routes, but can you really run routes? He’s able to run routes,” Nagy said. “Sometimes that can be a disadvantage to a defense because they’ve got to cover him all over the field. You can’t just put him in the backfield and say to the middle linebacker, ‘Cover him.’ So we’ll try to do some things there. He’s an athletic kid who does a lot of things well. We’ll have some fun with him.”