Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen wasn’t shy about his arrival to Bourbonnais Thursday.
Cohen, who could be heard blaring Stunna 4 Vegas and Da Baby’s hit single, “Animal,” long before he could be seen, pulled up to Olivet Nazarene University in a Polaris Slingshot as he and his teammates checked in to training camp a day prior to the team’s first practice Friday.
“It’s comfortable; it’s fun to drive, and I feel like I’m a fun player,” Cohen said. “We match.”
Not only did Cohen’s car match his personality, but his flashy arrival to camp Thursday matched the Bears’ arrival back into the national spotlight last season, a season that resulted in a 12-4 record and worst-to-first turnaround in the NFC North.
But last year’s success is in the rearview mirror now, as players, coaches and the rest of the organization is focused on the current task at hand — building off of that success.
“We hold ourselves to a higher standard now,” Cohen said. “Most of the guys that have been here and watched us go from last place to winning the division, we know what it takes to have that success and to have that work pay off in the regular season, coming out of camp.
“We’re all gonna put our best foot forward, help everybody that’s new to the team and help all the rookies so we can reach even higher.”
For third-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky, whom many expect to see a breakout year from in the second year of head coach Matt Nagy’s innovative offensive system, that progression from last season starts with the small things.
“I think if you just focus on the little things, the big leaps will take care of themselves,” Trubisky said. “Obviously, we all want to have big years, but it doesn’t happen like that. You’ve got to come to work every day, you’ve gotta focus on getting better at one thing at one time, every single snap.
“That’s what I’m focused on and the results will happen how they will.”
As for what exactly a next step for Trubisky and the Bears may look like, that is something that will be kept a secret for the time being.
“What we have on this team is very sacred — we created this culture that’s within ourselves,” Trubisky said. “We’re gonna play hard; we’re gonna do this together; we’re just gonna work hard every day and see what happens.
“We have our goals, and we’re gonna keep those to ourselves and just work hard and make sure we just chase after them.”
Should the Bears make another leap and find themselves in a deep postseason run, it might be because of the plethora of talent at the skill positions, an area that was injected with speed and ability for the second offseason in a row with acquisitions such as Cordarelle Patterson at the receiver position and rookie David Montgomery in the backfield.
For Allen Robinson, the Bears’ leading receiver in his first year with the team last season, that inner-competition between so many talented players in camp will have long-term benefits.
“I’ve been a part of a talented group before and I definitely think that helps, as far as the competition,” Robinson said. “Each and every day when you go out there, you wanna see guys make plays and you wanna compete with each other as far as who can make the most plays.
“At any time, if we’re competing as an offense or in the receiving room … I think that’s a good problem.”
Mack, Smith, Pagano ready for 1st Bears training camp
Although the Bears made vast improvements on the offensive side of the ball last year under Nagy, it was their defense — the NFL’s best — that allowed the Monsters of the Midway to reign supreme.
While defensive coordinator Vic Fangio now is the head coach for the Denver Broncos, new coordinator Chuck Pagano is regarded as one of the league’s best defensive minds, which has defensive end Akiem Hicks excited, especially since there are minimal personnel changes for the defense.
“If there was anybody that was going to replace Vic, it was Chuck — he’s a great team guy, a great player’s coach, a great communicator,” Hicks said. “When you come into a situation like ours, where we’ve already had a top defense, you’ve gotta be able to come in and approach it just like he has.
“I think he’s done a great job and I can’t wait to put it out there on tape.”
Not only will Pagano be making his first appearance in Bourbonnais this summer, but so will pass rush extraordinaire Khalil Mack and middle linebacker Roquan Smith. Mack was acquired via trade from Oakland after camp last season, while Smith ended a rookie contract holdout with the Bears last season around camp’s conclusion.
Mack spoke to the press just minutes after his arrival into town Thursday, but did get an idea of what Bourbonnais and the ONU campus was like from some of his teammates.
“They told me I’m gonna love it,” Mack said. “I don’t know if it was sarcastic love it, but I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m still taking it all in, looking around, getting a feel of everything. It looks like it will be a lot of fun.”
The advantage of a full camp will be there for Mack, who was a first-team All-Pro selection last year. But that benefit likely will be seen even more in the youthful Smith, who will be taking part in his first training camp for any team.
“I thought he played up to a standard that was above and exceeding what you can expect from a rookie linebacker,” Hicks said of his teammate. “He’s fast, he’s an awesome player, he’s smart, he’s mature for his age.
“He’s just an overall great guy and I think he plays great football.”
Mack agreed with his teammates’ sentiments on Smith and even took them a step further, along with his expectations for the Bears’ other starting inside linebacker, veteran Danny Trevathan.
“Ultimately, I feel like he can be an all-pro caliber player, along with Danny,” Mack said. “I feel like those two can take over the all-pro positions on the inside.”
Whether it be seasoned veterans like Hicks, young stars such as Smith or rookies like Montgomery, the next three weeks promise to be integral in how far the Bears can go this season.
And for Cohen, while many players may grow to loathe spending three weeks away from home and in the blistering summer sun, it’s all worth it for him and the Bears, a group focused on not just greatness this season, but for many to come.
“I’m not gonna be sad about training camp — I’m doing what I love, playing football,” Cohen said. “And I get the opportunity to come out here with my guys and make a dynasty.
“After we win one (Super Bowl), it’s not gonna be our goal just to win one. We’re trying to win multiple.”