By Chris Emma–
(670 The Score) Upon selecting the explosive Tarik Cohen in the fourth round last spring, the Bears felt confident he could immediately pose a threat in the return game. His place in the backfield right away was less certain.
Cohen was the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher, a star at North Carolina A&T, but there was no telling for certain that the 5-foot-6, 181-pound back would fit so well as the complement to Jordan Howard.
Sure enough, the Bears found their rushing tandem for years to come by selecting Cohen last April. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and rushed for two touchdowns while adding 53 receptions in a dynamic role.
Meanwhile, Howard followed his breakout rookie season by rushing for 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns, continuing his steady play as the Bears’ workhorse.
What’s next for the Bears’ backfield? More of the same faces as the feature backs and perhaps some new additions.
Returning: Jordan Howard, 23; Tarik Cohen, 22
New Bears coach Matt Nagy sees some interesting possibilities in utilizing his backfield of Howard and Cohen. How the offense will function with Nagy at the helm remains to be seen, though he’s certainly excited about the potential.
While former play-caller Dowell Loggains typically used Howard as the feature back and Cohen as the change of pace, Nagy could operate with more creativity. As the Bears implement a modernized West Coast offense, Howard can still expect to be utilized in clear running downs and short-yardage situations.
Howard may not be the ideal back for a West Coast offense — he has struggled catching passes and is still a work in progress as a backfield blocker — but Chiefs feature back Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards on 272 carries last season. That suggests Howard can expect a heavy workload once again.
As for Cohen, the Bears’ new offense will benefit from his speed threat and pass-catching abilities. Cohen can also expect plenty of opportunity in run-pass options and spread elements incorporated by new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
Cohen should also line up out wide at times to provide another look that features his abilities as a receiver. The natural comparison would be what Tyreek Hill accomplished last season with Nagy’s offense in Kansas City.
Likely returning: Benny Cunningham, 27
One of the more steady presences for the Bears last season was a player who was rarely discucssed, but the team has a great appreciation for veteran Benny Cunningham.
Cunningham should be back with the Bears and continue to work as the passing-down blocking back while serving in a special teams role. Cunningham may see increased duties within a new-look West Coast offense that prioritizes a player like him capable of blocking and catching passes out of the backfield.
If not Cunningham, who’s set to become a free agent in March, the Bears will need to find a player with a similar skill set.