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From RB to WR, Tarik Cohen will be an ‘advantage’ in Matt Nagy’s Bears offense

NFL.com recently released a highlight reel of 10 plays from running back Tarik Cohen’s
rookie season that speak to his do-everything abilities.

10. A 22-yard gain on a screen against the 49ers that featured several broken tackles.

9. A 29-yard run while running the read option as the wildcat quarterback against the Bengals.

8. A 15-yard touchdown run against the Lions, where he leapt into the end zone.

Bears running back Tarik Cohen scampers away from the Bengals. (AP)

7. A 46-yard kickoff return in the final minutes against the Saints.

6. A 26-yard run against the Steelers, where he cut back and avoided linebacker Ryan Shazier in the backfield

5. A 36-yard run against the Steelers in overtime that was milli-
meters away from being a 63-yard, game-winning score.

4. A 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Miller against the Ravens.

3. A 70-yard reception over the middle against the Panthers.

2. A 46-yard run against the Falcons where he abruptly changed direction in the backfield and took off in the opposite direction.

1. A wild 61-yard punt return for a touchdown against the 49ers that included running across the field and then backward before turning up the field.

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They were great plays made by a fourth-round selection from North Carolina A&T who surprised everyone but the Bears with his game-breaking skills last season. But those plays still weren’t good enough for Cohen.

Or the Bears and new coach Matt Nagy for that matter.

“I just have this attitude like I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything yet,” Cohen said Wednesday during the Bears’ three-day voluntary minicamp.

“I wasn’t in the Pro Bowl, really not like a definite household name yet, so I feel like I have a lot more to prove. I didn’t have a 1,000-yard season in any phase of the game, so I feel like I have a lot more to do.”

Cohen returned to North Carolina A&T this offseason to work on becoming a better receiver. It included participating in 7-on-7 drills where he didn’t line up as a running back.

“I do everything from outside or the slot receiver,” said Cohen, who totaled 1,578 all-purpose yards. “That’s really what I’ve been doing all my life. Nobody wants to play running back in a 7-on-7 and just get swing routes.

“You want to get the fade balls and jump balls and all that. So that’s what I’ve really been working on.”

It’s too early to say whether such routes will become staples for Cohen in Nagy’s offense. Nagy stressed that Cohen is a running back first and a receiver second.

Nagy’s inside-zone running scheme is similar to what Cohen excelled in in college.

“His route tree is not going to be as big,” Nagy said, comparing Cohen’s responsibilities to the Bears’ receivers. “The ones that he does have, he can hone in  on those and understand the specifics of that.”

Nagy, though, isn’t going to limit Cohen, who has bulked up to 190 pounds. He described him as a “dynamic” playmaker who presents mismatches against a variety of players.

“He’s a run threat and then he can catch the ball in space in broken formations,” Nagy said. “For us, that’s an advantage for the play callers and the play designers to be able to do some different things, move him around and try to get an advantage.”

Those advantages, though, start with Cohen being able to handle and understand all that Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich ask of him.

“He has the ability to be really good, and he knows that,” Nagy said. “But he’s young, and he’s got a lot to learn. We’re going to teach him everything we can and move him around, do different things. That’s not a secret.

“So how do we get him to where we want him to be by the time the season starts? [That] is what we need to do as coaches.”