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Key Backfield Component Returning

Tarik Cohen is working on strengthening his knee while the Bears go through OTA practice on the field, and the goal is to have him up and running for training camp.

When the Bears took the practice field for their first week of on-field OTAs, almost all their offensive players participated.

Even Tarik Cohen was out there, and in a way it could have been great physical and mental therapy.

The death of Cohen's twin brother a few weeks earlier due to an accidental electrocution, following the 2019 paralysis suffered by another brother after a shooting, would take a huge emotional toll on anyone.

The tragedy of those situations only compounds the difficulty the Bears running back faces in returning this season from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.

Cohen was on the field at OTAs, but not really practicing. He is still undergoing rehab and trying to strengthen his knee. He wasn't suited up with the others, but was running.

Coming back from an ACL tear isn't the certain career-ender it once was, but it can be for some running backs.

The Bears had former Texans back Lamar Miller on the roster last year after he suffered a torn ACL in training camp of 2019. He has yet to return to something close to the level he was at with Houston prior to the injury.

However, modern surgical and rehab methods make the return to 100% entirely possible. 

Age has a lot to do with it. Cohen is still 25 and plenty young enough to expect a full recovery.

Witness former Maryland running back Jake Funk. He suffered torn ACLs in 2018 and 2019 in college, came back in 2020 and averaged 8.6 yards per rush before getting chosen by the L.A. Rams in the draft's seventh round. Despite those injuries, Funk ran the 40 in 4.49 seconds at his pro day.

Seeing Allen Robinson play now, it's difficult to recall how he was less than 100% throughout 2018 while returning from the torn ACL he suffered with Jacksonville starting the 2017 season.

Working on Cohen's behalf in a comeback is the fact the injury he suffered on a fair catch—of all things—happened in Week 3 last year. The Bears haven't said yet when he'll be back but it wouldn't be unheard of for him to participate in camp in August.

Comebacks from  ACL tears are highly subjective and recovery rate depends greatly on the injury's severity. Miller's injury was very severe. Recently, safety Tony Jefferson signed with the 49ers after a severe knee injury, but he hasn't played since 2019.

A study done by focusing on ACL tears in running backs over a 15-year period is still very relevant even though it's been six years since it was printed. Surgical and rehab procedures haven't changed drastically since the start of this century, but go back too much longer and their methods seem barbaric.

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What the study showed was running backs on average saw a decline of 0.34 yards per carry in the first season after their injury.

For those who like to translate for fantasy football, the average running back scored more than three points less for their team per game the season after an ACL tear.

In real life, there's no telling how much losing Cohen meant to the Bears offense last year. He had been their leader in yards after the catch over the previous three seasons and took pressure off the offense with his punt return ability. Then there was also the ability to line up in the backfield and gain yards as a running back.

Such things are of less importance to the Bears right now than seeing Cohen's positive attitude in the wake of personal tragedy, as well as his progress physically.

"Right now Tarik is working hard," Bears running backs coach Michael Pitre said. "Obviously he's dealing with a tragedy that he dealt with. And our hearts and our thoughts are with him. But I know he's just working hard and trying to take it day by day."

Soon it will be training camp, and then Cohen will be competing in a running back group with more depth than in the past. His role could be reduced at least somewhat early because of the comeback, but also because Damien Williams is an excellent receiver as a backup back, and starter David Montgomery made major strides last year by doubling his reception total with Cohen away.

Cohen will have the time to bounce back. In the end, it can only be of benefit to the Bears offense.

Tarik Cohen at a glance

Career: 264 attempts, 1,101 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 5 TDs; 209 receptions, 1,575 yards, 7.5 yards per catch, 9 TDs; 96 punt returns, 985 yards, 10.3 yards per return 1 TD; 30 kick returns, 628 yards, 20.9 yards per return.

2020: 14 attempts, 74 yards, 3.7 yards per return; 6 receptions, 41 yards; 1 punt return, 0 yards.

The number: 1,602. In 2018 Cohen accounted for 1,602 yards running, receiving and returning for the division champion Bears.

2021 projection: 75 rushes, 295 yards, 3.93 yards per carry, 1 TD; 40 receptions, 260 yards, 2 TDs; 20 punt returns, 178 yards, 8.9 ypr.

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