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What does Bears RB Tarik Cohen’s emergence mean for Jeremy Langford?

Bears running back Tarik Cohen runs in the first half vs. the Broncos. (AP)

It only was an 11-yard run in a preseason game, but to Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen, it was much more. It was a sign of things to come. The first-down run told Cohen he belonged.

In Cohen’s opinion, he was close to turning it into a 92-yard scoring run late in the first quarter against the Broncos in the Bears’ first exhibition game last Thursday.

Playing with the first-team offense, Cohen reached the sideline and eluded safety Justin Simmons with a spin move. He had an open field ahead — and an escort of blockers.

“When I almost made that big play, I caught myself, and I was like, ‘Oh, that would have been crazy,’ ” Cohen said. “Playing in an NFL game, to make a big play on that level, that would have been amazing.”

Cohen knew he stepped out of bounds, but still seeing what might have been was extremely encouraging. It served as further motivation for a player who seemingly doesn’t need it.

“It put a bigger chip on my shoulder,” Cohen said. “I’d been in a game; I’ve seen what I can do. I was almost there on a breakaway run. So next time in practice I was like, ‘I’ve got to keep pushing to get better.’ ”

What does he have to do better Saturday against the Cardinals?

“Stay in bounds on my next run,” Cohen said with a smile.

Cohen, the Bears’ fourth-round pick from North Carolina A&T, tends to be the life of the party. He’s confident but also gracious. He effortlessly jokes about himself and others. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was his target Wednesday.

“I don’t remember him, either,” Cohen said of North Carolina A&T’s 2015 loss to North Carolina and Trubisky, then a backup.

“You tell him that.”

You also can tell that Cohen belongs — and not only in front of the cameras. His elusiveness, speed and knack for big plays in practice have him on the fast track to complement Jordan Howard this season. Cohen also is the Bears’ first punt returner.

“He can do everything,” running back Jeremy Langford said. “He’s a playmaker.”

But is Langford?

The Bears have the rest of the preseason to determine that.

Starting with Cohen, the Bears have been very pleased with their running back competition behind Howard. The problem for Langford is that he hasn’t been a part of it after spraining his surgically repaired right ankle during a walkthrough early in Bourbonnais. He just returned to practice in full pads.

“The most important thing is getting back to 100 percent and being the player that I can be and I want to be,” said Langford, who underwent surgery on his right ankle at the end of last season.

“It’s been good to be back out there with my teammates, [having] the pads on [and] getting back in the rhythm again.”

Last year at this time, Langford was viewed as Matt Forte’s heir apparent. He was the one coming off a promising rookie season of 816 total yards and seven touchdowns. He was the Bears’ top back, not Howard.

That’s not the case, anymore. Everything has changed. Only complementary roles are available.

Langford, a fourth-round pick in 2015, seems to understand that he needs to prove himself again.

“[It’s] be that playmaker and be versatile,” he said.

Langford’s opportunities to do that might be limited. Ka’Deem Carey and Benny Cunningham have value on special teams, and they also ran well against the Broncos.

And then there’s Cohen, who is proving to be the speedy mismatch problem that the Bears hoped Langford would be last season.

If Cohen is the life of the party, then Langford is definitely late to it. At least that’s better than being a no-show.

“It’s very competitive,” Langford said. “It’s no worse than last year, no better than last year, but all of us in there are competing. We got some good players in there — good running backs.”

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

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