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Howard, Cohen give Bears a strong backfield


The following is the second of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

The Bears boast one of the NFL's most talented backfields, featuring the 1-2 punch of productive veteran Jordan Howard and dynamic second-year pro Tarik Cohen.

Howard enters his third year with the Bears after becoming the first player in franchise history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons. The 2016 fifth-round draft pick from Indiana finished second in the league in rushing with 1,313 yards in 2016 and sixth with 1,122 yards in 2017.

Howard's 2,435 yards are the most by a Bears player in their first two seasons, and his 12 100-yard games are tied with the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott for the most by an NFL player over the last two years.

In April, first-year coach Matt Nagy told reporters that Howard "absolutely" would be the Bears' feature back this season, though the team plans to utilize other ballcarriers as well, primarily the game-breaking Cohen.

"[Howard] is going to be a guy that lines up and gets the ball," Nagy said at the time. "But at the same time, we're crazy if we use one back. That's not going to happen. We're going to use multiple backs."

Cohen made an immediate impact as a rookie last season, displaying the same explosive game-breaking ability that earned him the nickname "The Human Joystick" at North Carolina A&T.

Selected by the Bears in the fourth round of last year's draft, Cohen rushed for 370 yards and two touchdowns on 87 carries, caught 53 passes for 358 yards and one TD, averaged 9.4 yards with one touchdown on 29 punt returns, averaged 22.4 yards on 26 kickoff returns and even threw a touchdown pass.

In the process, Cohen became the first NFL rookie to generate a touchdown on a rush, reception, pass and punt return in a single season since Bears Hall of Famer Gale Sayers in 1965 and the first NFL player to do so since Terry Metcalf in 1975.

Third running back Benny Cunningham is also a key member of the backfield. Although the veteran receives limited reps on offense, his value in the locker room was evident last year when he was awarded the Brian Piccolo Award (along with Cohen).

Bears players vote for teammates who best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of Brian Piccolo, a Bears running back who died from embryonal cell carcinoma on June 16, 1970 at the age of 26.

Cunningham appeared in 14 games last year in his first season with the Bears. The versatile 5-10, 217-pounder rushed for 29 yards on nine carries, caught 20 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns—including a 38-yarder from Patrick O'Donnell on a fake punt against the Vikings—averaged 21.0 yards on seven kickoff returns and made six special teams tackles.

During the offseason,'s Bucky Brooks ranked the Bears as having the league's fourth best "backfield by committee."

"For a team that won just five games in 2017, the Bears have plenty of reasons for optimism heading into the new season," Brooks wrote. "And a lot of the positive vibes spawn from this 1-2 backfield punch, which gave opponents fits last fall.

"Considering Matt Nagy's experience working with versatile playmakers in Kansas City, the Bears' backfield could be a treat to watch in 2018."

The only backfields Brooks ranked ahead of the Bears were the Saints with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, the Falcons with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and the Titans with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis.

Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard proved to be one of the best running back duos in the NFL last season, ranking among the best backfield duos in all-purpose yards.