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Bears RB Tarik Cohen embraces mentor role: ‘I have to bring up the young guys’

Entering his third year, Tarik Cohen not only has the longest Bears tenure of any of his fellow running backs — he’s the only one who has ever played a regular-season game for the team.

Wild Card Round - Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears
Bears running back Tarik Cohen tries to catch a pass against the Eagles in the NFC wild playoff game at Soldier Field on January 6, 2019.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Running back Tarik Cohen doesn’t have to prove he’s one of the fastest players in the NFL. And he won’t.

He originally was listed as a participant in 40 Yards of Gold, a 40-yard-dash tournament to be held June 29 featuring NFL players but not sanctioned by the league. He said last week, however, that he wasn’t going to participate. He had other plans. Plus, with some of the NFL’s fastest players not running, he said the tournament “really isn’t declaring anything.”

Cohen is preparing to be more than a mere speed demon.

“I feel like my role is going to pretty much stay the same — I might have a little more on my plate,” Cohen said last week. “The only role I feel like has changed is the fact that I’m one of the older guys in my room now. I have to bring up the young guys, stay with them and talk to them and help them learn.”

When Taquan Mizzell was moved to wide receiver earlier this offseason, Cohen became the only Bears running back on this year’s team who actually carried the ball for them last season.

Entering his third year, Cohen not only is the longest-tenured Bears running back — he’s the only one who has played a regular-season game for the team.

Cohen is joined in the Bears’ running backs room by free-agent signee Mike Davis, first-round pick David Montgomery, seventh-round pick Kerrith Whyte and 2018 practice-squad player Ryan Nall.

“Everybody, really, besides Tarik and Nall weren’t here last year,” running backs coach Charles London said.

The Bears’ new running backs boast a versatility that Jordan Howard didn’t have — even if the veteran, who was traded to the Eagles in March, bemoaned to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday that the Bears had him “just being one-dimensional” last season.

“We’ve got guys that are like power backs, but they can be shifty with their feet,” Cohen said. “Great vision.”

While the Bears’ newcomers are learning the playbook during organized team activities — which end this week — Cohen focused on the more subtle aspects of his game. Praised since his rookie year for his ability to retain information, Cohen is trying to learn the bigger picture.

“Just focus on the complete package of the offense as a whole,” Cohen said. “Learning more of the whole offense: the concepts, the schemes. And not just be an ordinary running back.”

Cohen has never been that. Last year, he set career highs with 99 rushes, 444 yards and three touchdowns. He led the Bears with 71 receptions and finished third, only by three, with 91 targets. His 725 receiving yards trailed team leader Allen Robinson by 16.

On the strength of his punt-return prowess — he led the NFL with 33 returns and 411 yards — Cohen made his first Pro Bowl last season.

He still sees room for growth. Last year, Cohen learned just the specifics of plays installed specifically for him. This year, the Bears are building on those packages.

“We’d just take bits and pieces,” he said. “Now because I’ve got bits and pieces from last year and the year before, it’s starting to come in as a whole.”

He can see the offense evolving — because of coach Matt Nagy’s creativity and quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s grasp of it.

“We’re taking it a step further now,” Cohen said. “Some of the things that were basic last year, we’re starting to add onto it, elevating our game plan. It’s always good to stack one on top of another.”