Tarik Cohen figures to get a few more touches on offense after showing what he can dow with the ball and an open field in a dazzling display of punt and kick returns during his rookie season.
But despite a heavier expected usage on offense, Cohen is still expected to be a major player on the 2018 Bears’ special teams unit, which can use all the help it can get after Pro Football Focus ranked it as the ninth worst group in the NFL last season.
Yep, even despite Cohen’s best efforts – the rookie fourth-round pick was tied as the highest-graded rookie return specialist (with Titans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson) and graded out as the fourth best return man in the league – the Bears ranked 24th out of 32 teams in the NFL.
Fortunately, Cohen wasn’t the only ace special teams contributor, even though his Devin Hester-ish punt return touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers stands out as the most spectacular play of the Bears’ season. Bryce Callahan’s punt return touchdown (thanks in part to Cohen’s well-sold deke) and Pat O’Donnell’s fake punt touchdown toss to Benny Cunningham also represented the kind of big-play/trick-play potential the Bears had in 2017. Unfortunately, the positive contributions were limited and too few and far between.
The Bears used three place kickers, but Connor Barth was released after badly missing a game-tying kick against the Lions, Cairo Santos ended the season on injured reserve, and Mike Nugent missed his first extra-point attempt upon joining the team. The team also missed on several opportunities to upgrade the position, including a chance to sign Josh Lambo who tried out for the team in October before signing on with the Jaguars – where he excelled (of course)
Cohen is the only major special teams contributor locked into a contract for 2018. Santos, Nugent, O’Donnell, and Cunningham are set to become free agents, as are long-time special teams ace Sherrick McManis and long snappers Andrew DePaola and Patrick Scales. Special teams hasn’t been a strong suit for the Bears since Dave Toub skipped town, but the hope is that Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor and assistant Brock Olivo – both of whom are Toub proteges – can right the ship and get the Bears back among the league’s best in this area.