By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – In his NFL debut, Bears rookie Tarik Cohen lined up as a running back, an outside receiver, in the slot and even as the quarterback.
Looking to catch the defending NFC champion Falcons off guard, the Bears put their “joker” back to work.
“He’s not a mystery now,” Bears coach John Fox said Wednesday at Halas Hall.
Ahead of the Week 2 matchup in Tampa, the Buccaneers now know of Cohen, the versatile rookie drafted in the fourth round. As defensive coordinator Mike Smith plans to counter the Bears offense, he’ll be focusing in on Cohen.
That much presents a challenge for Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. He entered the regular-season opener with the benefit of unleashing Cohen on an opponent not ready for the surprise. Sure enough, Cohen became the centerpiece to their offense, garnering the most targets and receptions in the first game. He finished with eight receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown, while adding five runs for 66 yards.
With an offense limited in weapons, Loggains now must prepare for the Buccaneers knowing well Cohen will be a marked man for Smith’s defense.
“The Bucs have seen the tape and they’re obviously going to be aware of where he’s at,” Loggains said, “and I’m sure they’re going to work really hard to take him away.”
How will the Bears work around this? That could be the next trick up Loggains’ sleeve.
The Bears are still sorting through their options at receiver after losing Kevin White to injured reserve with a fractured scapula. Markus Wheaton could be healthy enough to line up as a weapon Sunday, and undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry will bring the Bears a reinforcement and some upside to replace White.
But with unproven options at receiver, Loggains could be forced to lean on his tight ends for a mismatch – especially if the Bucs defense keys in on running back Jordan Howard from the backfield and Cohen just about anywhere else. The Bears are counting on their depth and versatility at tight end as insurance to make up for a lack of talent at receiver.
Veterans Dion Sims and Zach Miller have both earned the faith of starting quarterback Mike Glennon and could be used to beat coverages against a talented Bucs defense. Perhaps Adam Shaheen could be the next rookie unleashed if he’s able to prove ready for regular-season action.
In Sunday’s opener, Miller had the second-most targets with six – half the mark of Cohen’s 12 — while Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy each hauled in three catches on four targets, mostly late in the game as Glennon looked to beat soft coverages from the Falcons.
The Bucs have multiple advantages on their side defensively. They know Glennon well from his four years in Tampa, plus they can learn from the Falcons’ miscues. Come Sunday, a chess match will unfold.
But after unleashing their secret weapon, the Bears now have to be creative in utilizing Cohen.
“I imagine he’ll continue to be a big part of our plan,” Glennon said, “just because he’s an explosive player and can really help our offense.”