Former Aggie running back praises N.C. A&T, shines in National Football League
by Roscoe Nance
Special to boxtorow.com
The Chicago Bears, one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, have a rich tradition of outstanding running backs.
From Red Grange, to Bronko Nagurski, to Willie Galimore, to Walter Payton, some of pro football’s most dangerous ball-carriers have worn the navy and orange uniform of the Bears. It’s still early in the career of Tarik Cohen, but the rookie fourth-round draft pick from North Carolina A&T is serving notice with his versatility that he might be on that some day.
Cohen, a three-time BOXTOROW All-American, BOXTOROW Rookie of the Year in 2016 and the MEAC career rushing leader, burst on the scene with a franchise rookie record 158 all-purpose yards in the Bears’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Even though the Bears have struggled all season and are last in the NFC North Division with a 4-9 record, he has stood out. He is the team’s second-leading rusher (347 yards on 80 carries, 4.3 yards per carry) and receiver (311 yards on 41 receptions). He had his best game rushing Sunday in the Bears’ victory over Cincinnati as he carried the ball 12 times for 80 yards. Cohen averages 22.3 yards on kickoff returns and 10.1 on punt returns, both team bests, and is also No. 2 in touchdowns with four – two rushing, one receiving and one on a punt return. He has even thrown a touchdown pass.
Cohen’s versatility led Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to remark, “There is nothing this kid can’t do.’’
Cohen is the Bears’ No. 2 running back behind second-year man Jordan Howard, who has gained 1,032 yards on nearly three times as many carries. The disparity in their workload, given Cohen’s productivity, had Chicago media scratching their heads, particularly during a three-game stretch that saw Cohen only carry the ball five times and catch three passes.
However, the three-time MEAC Offensive Player of the Year and 2016 BOXTOROW National Offensive Player of the Year says he has no problem with how he is being used.
“I just want to make plays when my name is called,’’ said Cohen. “I’m not too big on how many times I touch the ball. When I touch the ball, I pride myself on taking advantage of those opportunities and making big plays.’’
Cohen’s big-play ability was on full display in the Bears’ 17-3 home win against the Carolina Panthers. His 70-yard reception set up the Bears’ only offensive touchdown of the contest. That play showed yet another of Cohen’s skills. Typically, running backs’ receptions come on swing passes where they catch the ball either behind the line of scrimmage or a few yards beyond and use their ability to elude tacklers to turn short-gainers into big plays. The Bears split Cohen out like a flanker and he ran a pass pattern much the same as a wide out.
“We had been working on that in practice,’’ Cohen says. “Coach (John Fox) is confident in my route running and so am I.’’
The 70-yard play is the Bears’ longest of the season. Cohen, however, says he should have gotten more out it.
“I should have scored,’’ he says. “When I have that much space and with my speed and ability to make people miss I definitely feel that I should have been in the end zone on that particular play.’’
This time two years ago, Cohen was preparing to play in the inaugural Celebration Bowl, which North Carolina A&T won with him being named MVP after rushing for 295 yards and rushing for three touchdowns of at least 70 yards. This year, he will be rooting the Aggies on as they try to reclaim the Celebration Bowl and cap the season with an unbeaten record and a Black College National Championship.
“I’m super proud of all those guys,’’ Cohen says. “I tease them. I don’t know how they got better after losing me. I’m real jealous about it. I’m super happy. I hope they can continue.’’
But are this year’s Aggies really better than they were with Cohen?
“You can’t argue with numbers,’’ he says.
The same can be said about the numbers he is putting up for the Bears.
Below is Cohen’s appearance on BOXTOROW w/ Donal Ware in late October.