By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) — Chris Tabor never had the name of Tarik Cohen come across his desk in Cleveland prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, but he found out in time that the Bears have a special returner.
The Bears saw what the Browns didn’t in the explosive Cohen, drafted in the fourth round out of North Carolina A&T last April. Cohen proved to be a game-changing return threat in his rookie season and someone a special teams coordinator must spotlight.
Before being named the new Bears special teams coordinator last week, Tabor had to prepare for Cohen during the late December game in which he coached on the Browns staff.
“I was extremely nervous about the kid, employee No. 29 there,” Tabor said of Cohen.
“He’s a dynamic player … It’s a big statement, but (Cohen is) like a young (Darren) Sproles because he’s not a real big guy, but he’s built well in his lower half. He has some human joystick qualities to him where he can start and stop and make you miss.
“The other thing that you like about a good returner is he was a risk taker, and you want to have risk-takers. I think if we go back in history and you look at Devin Hester, he was a risk-taker.”
Cohen’s abilities as a returner will be a key facet to the special teams of Tabor, tabbed as coordinator by new head coach Matt Nagy. Though the Bears have a kicker, punter and long snapper on expiring contracts, they boast a talented threat in Cohen returning punts and kicks.
In his rookie year, Cohen averaged 22.4 yards on kickoff returns and 9.4 yards on punt returns. He returned one punt for a touchdown — a crazy 61-yard scamper to the end zone against the 49ers — and had several big returns negated by penalties. It became clear that Cohen has some special qualities.
Tabor joined the Bears after seven years working with the Browns. He had previously served as the Bears’ assistant special teams coach from 2008-’10, working alongside Dave Toub and coaching the likes of Hester, Robbie Gould, Brad Maynard and Patrick Mannelly — which was considered one of the best special teams groups of all time.
Like Toub, Tabor can bring some unique looks to the Bears’ special teams. Having Cohen waiting to return only increases the danger he can present.
“Obviously, if you have a guy, it’s more exciting because you can apply pressure to the opposing teams and help establish field position and/or score the ball,” Tabor continued on Cohen.
“It’s nice when you have one and continue to make that one better, as opposed to starting from scratch and having to work your way up to the level of just good. You want to take a good player and make him great.”
The Bears have struggled to find consistency on special teams since Toub departed after the 2012 season, when Lovie Smith was fired as head coach. Toub joined Andy Reid in Kansas City, where he began working with a Chiefs staff that included Nagy, who experienced firsthand the importance of a quality special teams unit.
Part of the issues the Bears have faced on special teams is related to weak bottom portion of the roster and placing players with no background in special teams into unfamiliar roles. Fourth-year general manager Ryan Pace has made it a greater priority to employ specialists on his roster.
With Tabor taking control — and a player like Cohen back to return — the Bears can hope better from their special teams.