The last time the Bears’ offense was decent, running back Tarik Cohen was at the center of it.
He was coach Matt Nagy’s favorite player in 2018, when the Bears — strongly aided by their defense — finished ninth in the NFL in points. Nagy seemed to have limitless imagination with Cohen as a runner and receiver and even schemed for him to throw a touchdown pass at the goal line.
Those Bears were fun to watch, and Cohen was the star of the show. Nagy would really like to get that back. In the two seasons since, the offense has spiraled, Cohen has disappeared, and punting enthusiasts are the only ones who enjoy watching Bears games.
A healthy, committed Cohen could get the party going again. Although he missed the first week of training camp as he works back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Nagy believes the Bears are “absolutely” going to get the dynamic version of Cohen from a few years ago.
“He showed in ’18 the different ways you can use him,” Nagy said. “The coordinators I talked to, that was one of the No. 1 guys everyone wanted to stop.”
Cohen led the offense with 1,169 yards from scrimmage that year (more than 20% of the team total) and was an All-Pro punt returner — the Bears’ most compelling playmaker since Devin Hester.
The thrill might have gone to Cohen’s head; he said his work ethic wavered in the offseason that followed. It showed, too, as he slipped from 4.5 yards per carry in 2018 to 3.3 in 2019, and from 10.2 yards per catch to 5.8.
He came back determined to re-establish himself last season and made such a strong impression that the Bears signed him to a three-year, $17.3 million extension after just two games. But in the third game, he suffered a season-ending knee injury while returning a punt.
The Bears are taking it slowly with his recovery, and Nagy said Tuesday he believes it’s still a matter of weeks, rather than days, until Cohen takes his first step back on the practice field. The Mayo Clinic projects a typical recovery time of nine months for a torn ACL, with some athletes needing a full year; Cohen had his surgery in early October. Giants running back Saquon Barkley tore his ACL against the Bears the week before Cohen went down and is still on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
The season opener against the Rams is Sept. 12 in Los Angeles.
“I don’t want to [give] a timeline,” Nagy said. “I do know this: Every single day, Tarik is in that training room. Every day. He is doing everything he can to get that thing right. That’s all we can ask him to do.”
In the meantime, the Bears are relying on David Montgomery and newly acquired Damien Williams at running back. Williams has shown versatility similar to Cohen’s over his six-year career, including a career average of eight yards per catch and 711 yards from scrimmage for the Chiefs in 2019.
The Bears also loaded up with as much speed as they could find at wide receiver by adding Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd to go along with Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney. Throwing in a healthy Cohen, who had 1,534 yards receiving over his first three seasons, could give the Bears one of the top groups of playmakers in the NFL.