Tarik Cohen has admired Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu since the "Honey Badger" starred at LSU. So when Mathieu sent a Twitter message to the Bears running back after their teams met in a preseason game last Saturday night, Cohen was excited to say the least.
"I wanted to scream like a little girl," Cohen said Thursday after practice. "But you've got to be a man about it, so I said 'thank you, I appreciate it.'"
Mathieu encouraged Cohen to "keep grinding and stay humble" after the fourth-round pick rushed for 77 yards on 11 carries in just over a quarter against the Cardinals' No. 1 defense in a 24-23 win over Arizona.
When he was playing at North Carolina A&T, Cohen and his teammates would watch highlights of Mathieu before their games. If the Bears rookie continues to perform like he did in Arizona, college players may soon be studying tape of him.
Bears running back Tarik Cohen tries to avoid Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson in last Saturday night's preseason game in Arizona.
Starting in place of the injured Jordan Howard, Cohen rushed for 72 yards on nine carries in the first quarter, including runs of 16, 16 and 25 yards. The 5-6, 181-pounder displayed the same slippery elusiveness that earned him the nickname "The Human Joystick" in college, but he also showed that he could break tackles.
"I feel like that's something I can do," Cohen said. "I feel like that's something I wanted to prove to everybody watching, that even though I'm a small back I have good knee drive and I can break tackles."
Mathieu apparently wasn't the only Cardinals defender to notice him. Cohen said he did a double-take when 6-3, 280-pound defensive end Frostee Rucker was eyeing him after a play.
"Frostee Rucker really stared me down on the sideline, but it was nothing big," Cohen said. "He's like seven feet. I had to make sure he was staring, and he was staring. So I walked back to the huddle like, 'Why's that dude staring at me?'"
More people likely will soon be focusing on Cohen. But he clearly has heeded Mathieu's advice to stay humble. When discussing his performance against the Cardinals, the 22-year-old praised the Bears offensive line and said that he felt that he left some yards on the field.
"The main thing I liked was the o-line blocking," Cohen said. "I felt like I didn't get touched until I really got like 10 yards. That was amazing. Never had that happen before. Things I want to improve on is when I get to the next level, making the move. I feel like a couple of my runs, when I got to that next level, I didn't make any moves, I just conceded the tackle. So I'm going to get better at that."
Cohen's success begins in practice, where he's always one of the Bears' most active players.
"The unique thing about Tarik is that he's an energy guy," said coach John Fox. "He practices hard. We have GPS systems on our players and he's one of the higher load guys every day. He likes to play football. He practices hard and you see evidence of that in games as well."
"It's really the only way I know how to go," Cohen said. "In college, that's what we did, we practiced hard and my coach really instilled that into me. I feel like the best players are the players that practice the best. That's what I'm trying to be, so I'm going to practice hard."
Cohen's rare ability is easy to see on tape, but the Bears have been just impressed with his intangibles, especially his desire to "keep grinding" as Mathieu advised him to do.
"You watch tape and there are measurables in different areas," Fox said. "But what you don't know until you get them is: How fast are they going to learn? How are they going to study? How are they going to work? There are a lot of successful people that maybe did not have great ACT or SAT scores. You don't know the grit level of a guy until he gets here, but I've been impressed with that."
Cohen has been just as impressive in his interview sessions with reporters. When asked what animal he would be if Mathieu is the "Honey Badger," the Bears running back said: "I'm thinking the chocolate badger. I'm going to ride off his wave a little bit."