The struggle to maximize multithreat running back Tarik Cohen exemplified the inefficiency of the Bears’ offense under coordinator Dowell Loggains as much as anything last season — outside of the development of Mitch Trubisky.
And never more so than in midseason, when Loggains declared Cohen the Bears’ best offensive weapon after a victory against the Ravens. Then Cohen had one touch the next week against the Panthers. It went for a 70-yard pass reception that led to a field goal in a 17-3 victory, but, still, it was his only touch of the day.
With Trubisky struggling and learning as a rookie, Loggains did a good job of getting a lot out of Cohen — a fourth-round pick — but he never could get the most out of him. Cohen became the first NFL rookie to score with a pass, a run and a reception and on a punt return since Gale Sayers in 1965, but he often was underused. He had 44 touches in the Bears’ first three games but only 19 in their last three — not much for the team’s best offensive weapon.
The opposite is more likely to happen under Matt Nagy. Eventually, anyway.
Cohen, a multifaceted gadget player who could keep defenses on their heels, is one of Nagy’s favorite weapons that he inherited when he became the Bears’ coach in January.
A year ago, Cohen led the Bears in rushing and receptions through two games. He already had caught a 19-yard touchdown pass, had run for a 46-yard touchdown and even handed off to Jordan Howard for a TD out of the Wildcat formation. This year, his production has been modest: nine rushes for 33 yards (3.7 average) and four receptions for 33 yards.
But it’s early. And Nagy acknowledged he needs time for the offense to develop to discover the best ways to employ Cohen.
“That’s part of the figuring-out process for me and for our staff right now — trying to figure out the best ways to get a guy like him with matchups,” Nagy said. “How are teams going to start playing other players? How are they going to play him?
“As we build a little bit more of a library of defensive schemes and what we see — whether it’s zone, man . . . double-team this guy — we don’t know those answers right now. There’s not enough games.”
Assuming other weapons become more productive, Cohen figures to be a complementary player with Howard, wide receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller and tight end Trey Burton likely ahead of him. So his workload might not increase much as the season progresses, but his impact should.
“I like it; I like the way I’m being used,” Cohen said. “I’ve been everywhere — running back, receiver and special teams. That’s what I wanted to do.”
One positive sign is Cohen has lost yardage on none of his nine rushes and one of his 13 touches. Last year, he lost yardage 24 times in 87 carries, an NFL-high 27.6 percent.
“I feel great about the direction of our offense right now,” Cohen said. “We have a lot of playmakers. It’s going to make everybody better to have somebody else on the field that can also score at any given moment.”