By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – The name Darren Sproles is sure to follow Tarik Cohen all throughout his NFL career.
It’s a natural comparison, with the two running backs standing at just 5-foot-6. Sproles is the present-day benchmark for undersized running backs, while Cohen was made a fourth-round pick of the Bears this past April. At some point, the Sproles comparison will get old, right?
“I don’t get sick of it,” Cohen said Monday at Halas Hall. “Darren Sproles is a great player. (He has) been in the league very long, a prominent player and he’s really opened the door for backs such as me, of our size and stature.”
Of course, there’s context to the Sproles comparison inside of Halas Hall. Bears general manager Ryan Pace served as director of player personnel in New Orleans when his front office brought in Sproles to make an impact with the Saints.
During three seasons in New Orleans from 2011 through 2013, Sproles combined for 232 receptions, 1,981 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns … as a running back. He also worked in as the No. 2 option in the backfield, averaging 5.7 yards per carry in those three seasons.
Cohen hopes to be a difference-maker in a similar regard. The MEAC’s all-time leading rusher and a North Carolina A&T product, he takes great pride in that path to the NFL, but there’s a lofty standard now the he has entered the league.
“I feel like I can be an explosive player,” he said. “I like to think of myself as a spark plug – make a play here and there to get everyone fired up.”
Bears coach John Fox isn’t typically one to offer lofty praise toward individuals, but he has spoken highly of Cohen ever since training camp.
Faith from this coaching staff is clear as Cohen has been entrusted with offensive responsibility. The Bears first tested Cohen after Jeremy Langford suffered another ankle sprain early in training camp.
They wanted to see if Cohen’s speed could translate to the NFL, and he continuously hit the edge. They wanted to see if he could catch passes out of the backfield, and he kept finding open field. They wanted to see if he could take a hit, and he bounced back up every time.
Because of the emergence of Cohen, Langford became expendable and was released by the Bears on Sunday, a year after he entered the regular season as a starter. Cohen will work as the No. 2 to Jordan Howard and offers a change of pace. For an offense lacking difference-makers at receiver, a player like Cohen can bring a crucial element. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains can work him at running back one play and then receiver the next. Cohen is someone the defense must notice before each play.
Pace referred to Cohen as a joker back after Day 3 of the draft wrapped up, meaning a running back capable of lining up all over the field and working multiple roles in the running and passing game. Cohen has shown he can fit with that job description, and a steady dose of work is likely on tap.
The Bears have a great deal of belief that they have a Sproles-like difference-maker in their backfield.