How Tight Ends Could Help Tarik Cohen's Rebound Year

Changes in his preparedness, in the Bears' scheme and in team's tight ends have Tarik Cohen expecting a big season as he begins the final year of his contract
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All Tarik Cohen needs is a bit of an edge to turn loose the type of speed he flashed his first two NFL seasons.

The Bears think they've found out how to give it to him.

The key could very well be the tight ends who have been brought in, Cole Kmet and Jimmy Graham.

"I definitely feel like they're going to have a lot of attention on them, being great targets in the passing game," Cohen said Tuesday via Zoom. "For the most part, safeties and other DBs will have to honor them.

"I think I will be mostly matched up against linebackers again."

That's trouble for linebackers.

Last year Cohen averaged 5.8 yards per catch, an average drop of 4.4 yards from 2018. His rushing average took a dive, as well, from 4.5 to 3.3

He wound up being covered more often by defensive backs because they didn't have to worry about much from an injured Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen or Ben Braunecker. The other tight ends who came on to fill in for those players didn't know the offense as well.

Defenses cheated defensive backs onto Cohen in coverage. Graham, Kmet and also Demetrius Harris have made it easier for Cohen to get that desired matchup in practice.

They're also trying to free Cohen up better in the running attack.

"Like, from last year it's like we’re going 10 times better already, and it's just beginning," Cohen said, pointing to the run blocking scheme of Juan Castillo as a difference maker. "I feel like with the run game, and coach Juan's scheme that he has for us, it's going to work wonders for us."

Cohen has blamed poor conditioning and offseason distraction for some of his problems last year and believes he's put that in the past.

"The first part is, I had a lot of things going on last offseason, and I really didn't really concentrate and grind the way I usually grind in the offseason," Cohen said. "I feel like it showed up a little bit toward the end of the season. 

"My body started deteriorating a little earlier than it would normally do. I didn’t feel the same explosion that I would usually feel, the same speed, and the same fire. Also, having a losing season would make you feel that way, but mostly I feel like it was that fact that I didn’t have the best offseason that I could have had last year."

One of the issues away from football distracting him involved the shooting of his half-brother, Dante Norman, who was paralyzed below the waste as a result.  

"You know, the season I had last year was definitely not my best work," Cohen said. "I definitely have to get that bitter taste out of my mouth.

"That's what I came into the offseason with. That drove me into the offseason, through my workouts and now even in training camp. I believe the coaches and all the staff upstairs, they can see that I'm ready to have a season like I had in 2018."

He needs it, in part, because he's in a contract year. He'll be an unrestricted free agent next year.

"Going into a contract year, I already know that it's only one thing that matters and it's how I play on the field this season," Cohen said. "I feel like talking to anybody doesn’t matter. I talk to my agent, and no matter what he says, ultimately I know it's on me to perform well this year. So I'm taking all things considered. I’ve got to ball out this year. It's always on me."

Contract desperation and inspiration aside, coach Matt Nagy said Cohen's attitude is different.

"He's really dedicated right now and trying to be coachable," Nagy said. "That's what I think is really neat with where he's at—with Tarik. There were some things we saw last year that we thought he could do better. He's hit that full steam ahead and there's been some changes in whether it's his angle in the run game or whether it's a specific route we're trying to teach him."

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