What we learned:

Tarik Cohen making better decisions as Bears' punt returner

Chicago Tribune

Here are three things we learned at Halas Hall as the Bears prepared for Saturday’s game against the Lions at Ford Field.

Tarik Cohen’s evolution as a punt returner centers on decision-making.

The rookie criticized himself after Sunday’s victory over the Bengals for being passive in allowing two punts to hit the ground. But special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers praised Cohen on Wednesday for how his risk assessment has improved from the beginning of the season.

Cohen didn’t return punts at North Carolina A&T, so there have been growing pains in addition to exciting moments as he has taken over the job. His ill-fated decision to field a rolling punt against the Buccaneers in Week 2 helped that blowout defeat go off the rails, but he has improved since that mistake.

On the Bengals’ second punt Sunday, Cohen decided not to catch it. It hit at the Bears 28 and rolled 10 more yards for a net of 53.

“He took a peek at the gunner, and when he looked back up he kind of lost (the ball),” Rodgers explained. “He realized, ‘Hey, I'm not going to put myself in a bad situation. Let's let this thing bounce. If I have space, I'll go ahead and take this.’ ”

Many factors shape the decision-making process in returning punts, including field position, blocking scheme, score and time remaining.

Cohen has learned the importance of talking with Rodgers and teammates about scenarios during third downs as the punt-return unit prepares to take the field.

“Are we up? Are we down? Is it time to take a shot, take a chance?” Cohen said. “It affects my play.”

Jordan Howard is eyeing a second straight Pro Bowl nomination.

There’s a good chance the second-year running back will represent the Bears when the rosters are announced at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Howard, who played in the game as a first alternate last season, has 1,032 yards, only three behind NFC rushing leader Todd Gurley of the Rams. And Howard’s seven touchdowns are plenty to support his chances.

“It would mean a lot because it would be my second one in a row, and not a lot of people even get to one,” Howard said. “It would be a big honor.”

More suspense surrounds the candidacy of defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. When the veteran reached the halfway point with seven sacks, he seemed a shoo-in for his first Pro Bowl. But he hasn’t had one since and, justified or not, sack production is a leading criterion for Pro Bowl recognition.

Hicks is tied for 27th in the NFL in sacks, but most of the players ahead of him are edge defenders. Hicks should be classified as an interior lineman. His chances to play in the game — even as an alternate — will be helped by the biceps injury Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy suffered Sunday.

Pernell McPhee and Kendall Wright will play against the Lions.

McPhee (shoulder) and Wright (shoulder) fully participated in practice Thursday and will not be listed on the game-status report. McPhee returns from a one-game absence.

The Bears listed the following players as questionable: tight end Adam Shaheen (chest), defensive lineman Eddie Goldman (hip) and safeties Adrian Amos (hamstring) and DeAndre Houston-Carson (left ankle).

[email protected]

Twitter @Rich_Campbell

Bears podcast: Mitch Trubisky's best Bears game »

Kendall Wright: Bears need more targets, not new receivers »

What the Bears can learn from the Rams' turnaround and Jared Goff's emergence »

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune
42°