Speaking to reporters at training camp, running backs coach Charles London discussed Jordan Howard's determination, Tarik Cohen's energy and what it was like for Bears assistants to learn the team's new offense.
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. But instead of being satisfied with that accomplishment, the 2016 fifth-round draft pick has doggedly worked to improve his pass-catching skills.
"He is working to get better," London said. "I have been proud of him in that aspect, particularly in the passing game. He identified that area early on when I got here, that that was something he wanted to improve on, and he has worked at it starting in OTAs and minicamp and then coming here.
"Every time he gets a chance to catch a ball, he's doing it. He is catching it pre-practice. He's catching it during practice, after practice. During special teams [periods] he goes on the JUGS machine. I'm proud of the progress he has made there, and hopefully it carries over into the season."
London has returned for a second stint with the Bears, having served as an offensive assistant under Lovie Smith from 2008-09.
London spent the previous four seasons as running backs coach with the Texans. He remembers evaluating Howard entering the 2016 draft and describes the Bears' running back as a great kid who possesses a high football intellect and great vision.
London sees Cohen as a "fun guy to coach" who "brings energy whether it's in the weight room or meeting room or a walkthrough out here at practice."
"I've really been proud of him," London said. "We've put him in different spots. We have thrown a lot at him and he has been able to handle it, and he wants more. I've been excited about that and am looking forward to seeing him play."
Cohen showed his versatility during a breakout rookie season last year. The fourth-round pick from North Carolina A&T 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.
Cohen has exceptional receiving skills for a running back.
"He has very good natural hands, very good ball skills," London said. "He understands the angle, understands how to beat a DB, stack him and get to the other portion to catch the ball. He's got big hands for a smaller guy. He tracks the ball as well as anybody as I've been around."
One of the aspects of the game the Bears are working on with Cohen is picking up blitzes—not an easy assignment for a 5-6, 181-pounder.
"It's important," London said. "We just can't put him back there and free-release him all the time. He's going to have to be back there and he's going to be in situations where he's got to protect. When that situation comes, he's got to be able to step up and make the block to protect the quarterback."
London has been pleased with the progress that Cohen has made as a pass protector.
"He has been fine," London said. "He has a low center of gravity. He's got long arms. He can punch. He's a strong kid. There have been no issues there."
While Bears players continue to digest the new offense, it's a process that the assistant coaches had to go through first so they would be equipped to teach it.
"The first two months we were here, that's really all we did," London said. "It was interesting because really Matt was the only one who knew the offense. He had to teach everyone the offense. Like the players are doing now, we'd have an install among coaches. Then we'd have to go home and study to learn the offense.
"There were quizzes for us, too. So, just like the players, we would come in and we may watch a game. Matt may ask me: ‘What's this concept? What do we call this? What do we call that?' It was a great way to test each other because we were all learning together.
"Our learning process for the playbook wasn't very different from the players' process. So I can understand some of their struggles at times to learn things because I probably struggled with that concept originally. I may know the concept, but maybe the offense I was in, it was called one thing and here's it called another. It's like a whole different language. You've got to process that in your brain. You know it one way for six, seven, eight years, and now we're calling it this."