Running back wasn’t exactly a need position for the Chicago Bears heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, but they grabbed one in the fourth round anyway. Tarik Cohen was a dynamic playmaker at North Carolina A&T, which is a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). The MEAC teams play in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, so they are a smaller school.
Cohen was the conferences rookie of the year in 2013, then he was the MEAC Offensive Player of the year in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He’s the MEACs all time leading rusher with 5,619 yards.
After he was drafted by the Bears, he held a conference cal with the media. Here’s everything he had to say after the draft.
Cohen was asked where he watched the draft from and the reaction he had when he was picked by the Bears.
“I was watching the Draft at my school campus. They threw something in one of the buildings and we just had a watch party. When I finally got the call I tried to keep my composure because it wasn’t showing on TV so I wanted to give everybody the surprise they’d been waiting for. So I tried to keep my composure but a couple of people had seen it on my face when I was on the phone that I had been picked, and then when it came across the screen it was just a bunch of excitement and joy.”
And how many people attended the watch party?
“There was like two-hundred people there, and the reaction was just ecstatic. Everybody was just happy for me, and it was just a loving atmosphere.”
Cohen has the nickname, Human Joystick, here’s his story on that.
“The nickname came from the guy at Just Bombs Productions. He makes highlights on YouTube, and when he made my YouTube highlight it had gotten a lot of views and that’s what he titled it as. It was “Tarik Cohen: The Human Joystick Highlights” so that’s what stuck, and everyone seemed to like that. I really prefer Chicken Salad. Someone on ESPN called me Chicken Salad and I really liked that. I don’t think it’s bad, the Human Joystick, I really like that too.”
Whae asked why he likes the nickname Chicken Salad he said, “I don’t know, it’s different. I’ve never heard of anybody called that and I want to be one of one.” But what does it mean? “I don’t know but I like it, it just sounds like a lot to go with.”
If you haven’t seen the backflip catch, here’s a clip.
And here’s what he had to say about that.
“It started because I had seen somebody else do it first, and then we were bored in the morning before conditioning, so we decided to go out and try it. The first two times I think I failed, and then the third time I got it pretty naturally and that’s when I really got the hang of it because I stopped being scared. Then, I was competing with somebody else at a different school and he had done it too so I had to one-up him, so that’s why I did one hand. Social media got a hold of that and went crazy and then I had to one-up my film, because everyone was asking what was next, so then I did the two balls both at the same time, and then social media got a hold of that and Instagram went crazy.”
On NFLPA game experience.
“At first I kind of doubted myself because I didn’t have the first day that I wanted, but then that night I really hit my playbook hard and the second day I really killed it and that’s what showed all of the scouts that I could play at the heightened competition and I’m not just an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) guy.”
On how his size (5’6”, 179) will be helpful.
“I think it will play a key role in helping me and benefiting me, because the linemen are going to be bigger so it’s really going to be hard for defenders to see me behind my linemen and I can use that to my advantage.”
On if he looks at other small backs in the league
“Yeah, definitely. Sproles and Tyreek Hill does it all. That’s why I really feel like I can do the same things coming into the league my rookie year.”
Cohen is most compared to Darren Sproles, with his all around game as a running back.
Here’s Cohen on his vision on field during his cutbacks.
“I just look for a defense being too aggressive. When the defender is too aggressive he really leaves himself vulnerable for the cutback. Then, knowing me and knowing I’m a shifty back and I have speed, defenses really want to get to that point before I get to that point. That’s when they really get overly aggressive and that sets me up for the perfect cutback.”
The Bears run a lot of zone blocking up front, so a runningback with good vision for the cutback could find some big holes.
Cohen was asked how much he talked with the the Bears pre-draft, although he couldn’t recall the name of the scout he spoke with.
“We had good contact one of the scouts really liked me, he also came from a HBCU, and I felt like he was pushing hard for me. I had a visit with the Bears, and the visit went very well, and I knew that they liked me and showed a lot of interest in me, but then like a couple of days before the draft getting calls from other teams, I didn’t really get a call from the Bears but I was texting the scout still so when they picked me it was kind of a shock but I expected it because it was one of the teams I had a visit on.”
He ran a 4.42 forty at the NFL Combine, so he was asked about that.
“I was disappointed in my forty time I wanted to run a 4.3 anything I stumbled on the first one and then the second one is always slower than the first one so I felt like if I would’ve ran my second forty like I ran my first forty I probably would’ve ran sub 4.4.”
Here he is on his mindset after not running the combine 40 time that he wanted.
“I still had a pretty good day, I feel like I did good at the other drills, I got the punts well, did the shuttle better than people thought I was going to do and some receiver coaches came out from the stands and worked me and a couple of other guys out.”
Cohen talked about his experience in the return game.
“I returned one punt this year, and it was for a touchdown. Throughout my career my coach really didn’t want me doing special teams because he didn’t want me to get hurt, and also after my sophomore year, we had a punt returner that set the record in punt returns for the season.”
He wasn’t used in the return game in college, because he was too valuable to their offense, but I’d imagine the Bears would like to get him some touches on punt returns.
On the jump from a small school to the pros.
“I am expecting it to be a pretty noticeable jump, but I don’t feel like I have reached my potential yet in terms of being an athlete. I can definitely get in better shape as far as muscle; I can definitely get the mental aspect of the game down pack more. I’m just ready to see where I can be and how I can compete on this next level.”
Here’s Cohen on his interest in sports science.
“It really came about my senior year in high school, a couple of my teammates got injured and then I was thinking about how I can get injured, and how to prevent it. Then when I got in college and around my training staff I liked the process like getting iced, diagnosing injuries knowing what’s wrong I just felt really inclined to that so I decided to take that up as a study.”
If he’s going to get playing time as arookie, he’ll need to be able to pass protect on occasion. Here’s Cohen on his pass protection responsibilities in colege.
“My first couple of years, like my freshmen and sophomore year I was very heavily into the pass post, my coach had me doing all the staying in, and 6-man protection and 7-man protection. Then in my junior and senior years coach wanted me to get out on my free releases and run routes around backfield I really didn’t have much responsibility in that.”
Would he like to be bigger?
“No I didn’t necessarily want to be bigger but I wanted to beat the bigger kid.”
And did he beat the bigger kids?
“Oh yeah definitely I got a chip on my shoulder, so when I was going against the bigger kids I always felt like I had something to prove so I’d always go harder.”