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Cohen reflects on signing three-year extension

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Tarik Cohen is confident that he'll rebound from a disappointing 2019 season and revert to the electrifying form he displayed in 2018.

The Bears showed that they share the same belief in Cohen Sunday morning when they signed the running back/return specialist to a three-year contract extension through 2023.

"They probably saw that I had one bad season, but my seasons prior to that were good," Cohen said Tuesday during a video call with reporters. "They also see where I can go from here. They know that I had a bad year last year and they saw the way I approached this offseason, putting last year behind me and just trying to be a better me and fit better into the offense and become that weapon that they see me as."

Since being selected by the Bears in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of North Carolina A&T, Cohen has rushed for 1,080 yards and five touchdowns on 262 carries and caught 206 passes for 1,555 yards and nine TDs while appearing in 50 games with 22 starts. The 5-6, 191-pounder has also thrown two touchdown passes and averaged 10.3 yards with one TD on 96 punt returns and 20.9 yards on 30 kickoff returns.

Cohen excelled in 2018, helping the Bears win the NFC North with a 12-4 record. He rushed for 444 yards and three touchdowns on 99 carries and caught a team-leading 71 passes for 725 yards and five TDs. In the process, he became only the second player in NFL history to gain at least 500 yards via rushing, receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns in his first 25 games.

Cohen was also named first-team All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl as a punt returner after leading the NFL with 411 punt return yards.

Last season, Cohen rushed for 213 yards on 64 carries and caught a career-high 79 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns. But he did not produce the big plays that he had generated in previous years. His yards-per-reception dropped from 10.2 in 2018 to 5.8 in 2019. Cohen's longest catch in 2019 was a 31-yarder, while he had receptions of 70, 50, 46, 35 and 32 yards in 2018.

Cohen was in the final year of his rookie contract and could have become an unrestricted free agent in March 2021. But the loyalty he felt to the Bears factored into his decision to sign the extension.

"The Bears offered me a good deal, and the history that I have with the team and just the family-like bond that I feel with not only the players, but the ownership and the coaching, I felt like it was only right for me to stay here," Cohen said. "They gave me my first shot and I feel like I'm always loyal to the people who are loyal to me.

"For example, going to college, I went to an HBCU, [a] small school, and then when I had my first success there my sophomore year, a lot of people were like, 'You should transfer out to a bigger school.' And for me, it was just like, 'Why would I transfer out to a bigger school? The bigger schools weren't looking at me when I was coming out of high school, so I should just stay with my family.'"

Since joining the Bears, Cohen has not missed a game due to injury.

"I take a lot of pride in that," he said. "It's like the same thing I did in college. I think I missed one game in college. I just love being on that field, and I take care of my body in the weight room during the season."

Since Sunday, Cohen has been too busy to reflect on the significance of his journey from North Carolina A&T to landing a second NFL contract. But that time will eventually come.

"Once I do something for my family—what I've always been wanting to do, like get my mom a house—I feel like that's when the moment will really hit me," Cohen said. "Right now, I'm feeling the grind, [I] just got done working out, [I] feel like it's just regular Tarik."

Cohen has been part of a resurgent Bears running game early in the season. In a Week 1 win over the Lions in Detroit, he rushed for 41 yards—his best output in a game since 2018.

"My biggest love is definitely the offensive line," Cohen said. "I feel like they're getting down, nitty and gritty. You love to see that from your O-linemen. The same thing I love about this year is the commitment to [the run game]. We're calling runs on maybe second-and-long, maybe third-and-intermediate. We're calling those run plays and we're picking it up. So that's a wonderful compliment to the O-line and definitely shows how much hard work we put into it this offseason."

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