We’re a mere five games into the Mitchell Trubisky era and on Sunday, in a pathetic loss to that team up north, some Bears fans started to hit the panic button on the young quarterback. There’s really only one thing to say to all of you – just chill.
Disclosure: Before the 2017 NFL Draft, I was driving the Jamal Adams bus, and getting my share of criticism for it. I hold a minority opinion that safety is incredibly important to an elite defense and felt that was the best direction for this program (for the record, Adams has stepped in for the Jets and played very well). But hey, the Bears got Eddie Jackson and a ticked off Adrian Amos – I’m all set over here.
Back to the quarterback situation. There were few people more irritated by the process of signing Mike Glennon, and giving up draft assets to move up one slot and drafting Mitchell Trubisky than I was. What the heck were the Bears doing? Is Ryan Pace channeling his inner Phil Emery and being too cute with his choices? Does Ryan Pace think he’s the smartest guy in the room while everyone else is chuckling behind his back?
I gave myself a week to mope about and then I hit the reset button. Mitchell Trubisky represents a minimum 4 year commitment on the part of the Chicago Bears organization. He started one year in college. If he was applying for the job of starting quarterback in the NFL, many organizations would reject his resume for lack of experience. But Ryan Pace believed so much in him that he was willing to bet his reputation and his future in this profession on Mitchell Trubisky. Have you ever believed in anything so strongly that would impact your career? Even if he’s wrong, the conviction is comforting. Regardless of what you think of Ryan Pace, he knows a lot more about player evaluation than just about all of us.
I correctly predicted before the season that we would see Trubisky start in week 5 against the Vikings, which is what happened only because Mike Glennon was so terrible the John Fox regime had no choice. This Bears team wasn’t going anywhere this year. The best thing that the Bears could do was give the young quarterback reps and real game experience. It was the right decision at the time, independent of what the early returns would give us.
So here we are. Five games into a career that all Bears fans should be hoping will last 250+ starts. Here are my early thoughts:
1. Mitchell Trubisky has shown leadership and the desire to work hard and get better. Lester’s story about Josh Sitton last week should tell you all you need to know about his command of the players around him. It’s not something I can prove, but I believe this entire team has played harder since he’s been under center. The defense knows that Mike Glennon was an unmitigated disaster and they know that Trubisky at least gives them a chance. That’s a great start. People want to play with this guy.
2. The arm is good, very good. I know the accuracy stats aren’t there but with drops and throwaways and the small sample size, they’re better than the numbers show. Plus, he’s already managed to make a number of big time throws that we’re seeing Carson Wentz make on a weekly basis this year. Which leads me to my next point…
3. Rookie QBs aren’t usually very good. Yes, Marcus Mariota came in hot in 2015 but he experienced a lot of growing pains that first year. Jameis Winston turned the ball over a ton in that same year (and since). They both had more experience than Trubisky coming out of college. Last year’s rookies had very different paths. Jared Goff was terrible when he finally took over for Case Keenum (Spoiler alert: He’s pretty good this year). Carson Wentz had flashes and a solid stretch early in the year but really faded in the second half. He’s currently in the conversation for the league MVP with an 8-1 team. It’s not crazy to think that Wentz’s Eagles could host Goff’s Rams in the NFC Championship game this year. Remember, this is the most difficult position to play in football and Trubisky is on the early end of the learning curve. He has a lot to learn in working through his progressions, reading blitzes, getting rid of the ball to avoid sacks, etc., but all young players take their lumps. How he adjusts and learns from those mistakes is most important.
4. The John Fox regime is not the group to develop Trubisky. So far, the best plays in the Trubisky era are instinctual plays when he’s on the run and threading the needle into tight windows. Those are fun plays, but they are not sustainable. With all respect to the Fox / Dowell Loggains scheme, they haven’t put Trubisky in a position to succeed. Pairing a young QB with a creative offensive mind is a pretty good recipe right now in the NFL.
5. Hire a creative play caller – either as Head Coach or Offensive Coordinator. I’m not sure it has to be the Head Coach. Many of the most successful coaches are defensive oriented guys (Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, Mike Tomlin – even a Mike Zimmer or Ron Rivera). But there has to be the room to create a sustainable system for whoever calls the plays. Look at guys like Sean McVay for the Rams or Josh McDaniels in New England or Andy Reid in Kansas City for creative schemes (Doug Peterson in Philly basically runs the Reid scheme). Those guys use all the pieces around them and scheme players open. The Bears have relied on replacement level receivers to get open based on route running ability, not scheme, and that’s not a recipe for success.
6. Remember that an offensive system can take time to work. Yes, this is the old Cutler argument that changing coordinators every other year leads to discontinuity. Look at the Falcons after losing Shanahan. They’ve had a huge drop off in their efficiency with essentially the exact same lineup. And, if you look back, that scheme took time for Ryan to learn and use effectively. The good offenses in this league have continuity in play caller and quarterback for a reason – repetition is a huge component of playing fast and loose. Expect some growing pains early in the next regime too.
7. Ryan Pace needs to dedicate significant resources into building a receiving corps in the offseason. Let’s assume that Cam Meredith comes back from his ACL injury and fills the role of trusty possession receiver. That’s 1. Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright are both Free Agents at the end of the season. Markus Wheaton can be cut next year and is anyone honestly counting on Kevin White to come back? The difference in Free Agency this year is that there will be good receivers that will want to play with Trubisky. Receivers generally want to play with a QB who will help them provide stats. Alshon Jeffery left money on the table to sign a one-year deal with the Eagles because he believed in Wentz. Let’s see who Trubisky attracts.
Finally, let me end with a plea. We’re all fans of this franchise and we’re all sick of losing. I get it. This Trestman-Fox run has taken its toll on all of us. But let’s try and remember the realities of playing the quarterback position and the timeline to properly evaluate a quarterback’s development. There will be a point in time where we’ll know what we have in Mitchell Trubisky. It is not mid-November 2017. We’re in this together. Give it some time and chill.