Arkush: Bears 4th-round RB Tarik Cohen earning chances to contribute as a rookie

Diminutive Cohen's elusiveness has been one of bigger early stories in Bears camp

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H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com Chicago Bears' running backs Jeremy Langford (from left) KaDeem Carey and Tarik Cohen during an NFL football training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. Thursday, July 27, 2017. — H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com

BOURBONNAIS – NFL training camps tend to take on a rhythm of their own, and it’s not unusual for the stars of Weeks 1 and 2 to end up on the practice squad after the final cuts are made.

That is half the story of Tarik Cohen out of North Carolina A&T, who through the first full week of Bears training camp is the guy it’s been hard to take your eyes off.

Beyond that, however, while the 119th pick in the draft is usually a solid bet to make his team, Cohen is about as sure a thing as we’ve seen in a while.

At 5-foot-6 and maybe 175 pounds soaking wet, he is anything but your prototypical NFL back, and, full disclosure, we haven’t yet seen what will happen the first time he gets knocked into next week.

However, the possibility exists that will never happen, as the kid is as quick as a hiccup and changes directions on a dime, and it is rare to see a defender able to get both hands on him as he starts, stops and darts around.

The biggest question surrounding Cohen beyond his lack of size has centered on his leap in competition from the FCS Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to the NFL.

“I’m feeling very comfortable and, you know, in our offense the coordinator and coach [John Fox] have really put me in the perfect position matchup-wise to be able to showcase my speed, agility and quickness,” Cohen said.

Cohen does, however, acknowledge football is a different game at this level.

“Yeah, it’s definitely been a jump, a noticeable jump. I can definitely tell sizewise and definitely in the speed,” he said.

“One of the main things I’ve really seen is the discipline of the defenses now. You know, if somebody has outside contain they’re going to do everything to keep that outside contain.”

Since draft day, there has been speculation as to where Cohen will fit in the NFL, and some have speculated as a one-two punch with Jordan Howard.

But that’s not really how the Bears see it, with Jeremy Langford still the odds-on favorite to claim the No. 2 running back spot.

Where Cohen looks like he could fit nicely is as the No. 3 back, also known as the change-of-pace guy.

While both Howard and Langford can bludgeon teams between the tackles and occasionally bounce the ball outside, Cohen is the guy the Bears will try to get the ball to in space, often in the passing game and on third down.

Cohen takes great pride in his ability to make tacklers miss, explaining, “I feel like it’s from many years of backyard football. So when it happens in a game situation, there’s just reaction, so I should just be out there having fun, and if a spin move pops out, then it’s a spin move, and if three more follow it, then that’s how it happens.”

Fox doesn’t see Cohen’s contributions limited to the backfield, hoping he has a new punt returner too.

“That’s why we drafted him; we’re going to let him compete,” Fox said.

The coach likes him in that third-down role as well.

“Like a lot of shifty guys, they don’t give you easy hits on them, so hopefully he does a good job of avoiding those.

“He’s a matchup problem. He’s tough for linebackers, even for safeties at times as far as covering, because he’s explosive and real quick. And he has excellent hands.

“So some third-down backs are like receivers, where you shift them out and do things, there’s been some guys like that who’re threats in different ways, and that helps an offense, especially on third downs.”

Cohen is engaging and confident, while anything but cocky, and so far this camp, it’s hard to imagine him not playing a much-bigger-than-his-size-suggests role when the games actually become real.