In some ways the deck is already stacked against Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky panning out how the organization hopes. There’s plenty of talent and potential here, but a quarterback needs acclimation to the position as he leads a group of men and learns how to diagnose defenses on the fly. Playing quarterback in professional football isn’t something where you can just come in, pick up the ball, and toss it around like it’s in your backyard.
That’s reflected in the history of one-year starters having little to no success in the NFL. It isn’t kind or pretty. There’s a multitude of information to process in a complex game with world class athletes while playing sports’ most difficult position. Only three quarterbacks selected in the top 100 since 1993 had one season as a starter: Mark Sanchez, Matt Blundin, and Brock Osweiler.
Not exactly the most comforting list to refer to.
In that light, it’s easy to pinpoint why one-year starters have so little success in the NFL. The first and obvious reason is that some simply aren’t NFL-caliber in any fashion. They had a fluke final season in college based on simplistic reads, had inflated statistics, or anything along those convoluted lines.
The other more nuanced thought about developing a one-year college starter, at least for the hyper-impatient and ultra-old school NFL, is taking time to help a quarterback patiently i.e. not throwing him into the fire. By putting a passer in too early, you risk harpooning all possible progress as the young man is mentally overwhelmed and beaten up by opposing defenses. This is where many a debate in football circles start as to whether it’s best for a passer to play right away as you can only learn by doing, or whether it’s more apt for a guy to sit a season or two.
And, there are a multitude of examples of quarterbacks from either side to use as examples such as the Panthers’ Cam Newton (even though he had time as a starter in junior college) for guys thrown into the fire, or the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, who sat behind Brett Favre after being drafted in 2005 until 2008. The 2017 quarterback class that comprises Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and others will test this proper development theory as each of these guys are likely to sit for a lengthy time period with no pressure in their first year.
As The Ringer’s Kevin Clark notes, “the trend of rushing quarterbacks increasingly makes little sense.”
That’s because of the simplification of college offenses where quarterbacks are still asked to do a lot but have a lot of the mental processing required at the professional level removed in spread offenses. Factor in less offseason preparation time in minicamps and training camp, and you have a failure cocktail of attempting to succeed with a young quarterback who needs time to adjust to his much heavier responsibilities.
The redshirt quarterback has now returned to the NFL and no one knows what to expect. Though, with the signing of Mike Glennon as the veteran stand-in in this past March’s free agency, it appears the Bears are well aware of the history of raw one-year starter quarterbacks such as their man in the 22-year-old Trubisky - who they’ve zeroed in on for months.
Chicago maintains they will take their time on developing the player who they believe can lead the franchise to glory in Trubisky. But history suggests given recent project quarterbacks such as the Eagles’ Carson Wentz (who started right away in 2016 because of a lucrative Sam Bradford trade) or the Rams’ Jared Goff (who Los Angeles threw into the fire midseason last year partly due to media and fan pressure), that we’ll see the Bears’ new young gun in 2017 at some point.
It’s a matter of if not when Trubisky, unless you’re a huge believer in the surefire upcoming MVP in Glennon. In that regard, the Bears better play their cards right and not launch this entire quarterback experiment out of whack.
Let’s take a look at playing scenarios in 2017 for the man general manager Ryan Pace believes “has the potential to be a championship quarterback” in Trubisky.
Ideal Trubisky development track
For Trubisky to flourish, he can almost never touch the field in the 2017 season.
To do that and have no media or fan pressure mount for the Bears to insert him into the lineup, Glennon must at least play at an average level and keep Chicago afloat even among a difficult schedule that includes three of last year’s championship weekend participants in the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the rival Packers in the first month.
If Glennon can play relatively composed and have the Bears hover in the 2-6 to 4-4 range (again, the ideal), then the cries for the young toy in the background in Trubisky to come in, will be mute. If Glennon struggles and the Bears’ performance as a whole is completely below par, which is certainly possible, then the coaching staff may feel the need to not waste any time in developing the future.
Given Trubisky’s current developmental track, that would be a mistake. The proper long-term perspective has to be maintained here and that’s what Glennon is ultimately here to do for Chicago: keep Trubisky on the sideline as he learns. If it’s kept an actual redshirt year for him, you’ll see the dividends of the young quarterback’s preparation pay off in 2018. To be determined.
Could be better, still adequate
Glennon and the Bears flirt with mediocrity the entirety of the 2017 season, but it’s never abhorrent enough to warrant putting Trubisky in early. Given their up and down play (mostly down) Chicago isn’t officially eliminated from playoff contention until early December. Then, Glennon gets another game or two to start, or actually finishes 2017 as the starter, while Trubisky either starts to play in garbage time or outright takes his final spot in final games against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, and Minnesota Vikings.
By the late year, rookies aren’t really considered “rookies” by many, and by the end of 2017 Trubisky will be likely comfortable enough to start taking some snaps should manners go completely haywire for the Bears.
You’d prefer the organization wait altogether as there’s still risk in throwing in the No. 2 overall pick against generational pass rusher Myles Garrett against Cleveland or to play Minnesota’s ferocious defense, but the damage would be limited. To that end, there might not be much to worry about if Chicago wants Trubisky to get a feel for the game and keep the playbook constricted.
Should be avoided at all costs
Unless Trubisky lights it up in Bourbonnais during training camp and outperforms his veteran teammate in Glennon by leaps and bounds, it’s safe to assume he won’t be the Bears starter in September. Pace himself already maintained that “Glennon is the starting quarterback” immediately after selecting Trubisky.
But that doesn’t mean that status quo will last long. Circumstances can change quickly at quarterback. This is the extreme.
Fast forward to September, where Glennon has clearly defined himself as the starter while Trubisky is named the third quarterback and Mark Sanchez is Glennon’s backup. Glennon struggles to keep up against fast and athletic defenses in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay, and shows significant rust since the last time he started a live game in 2014 with the Buccaneers.
About six or so games in, as his poor performance reflects in an ugly Bears’ record, Glennon is then benched and Sanchez is inserted to protect the malleable Trubisky. Naturally, Sanchez then struggles too, while Chicago flounders around again in last place in the NFC North and near the bottom of the NFC as a whole. The turnovers and inaccuracy don’t stop and by November the Bears are in line for another top-five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
With all of that in mind, the Bears lose their grip, decide the assets in Glennon and Sanchez that they signed to shield Trubisky and keep pressure off of him, are in effect, without use. They shoot their franchise quarterback development plan down the drain and insert Trubisky at around the midseason point after their Week 9 bye week. He in turn, also struggles, as he’s still processing how to determine blitz protections, rotating safeties, and in general quickly making reads.
In a way, Trubisky is taken to the task as the Bears are widely panned for inserting him in too early and for ever drafting him, and he looks like a shell of an NFL quarterback - even while incredibly inexperienced. His career path then follows other one-year starting busts and this Chicago-Pace regime goes by the wayside.
Perhaps a bit of hyperbole to say it would be over for Trubisky, but this has been the model for disappointment.
Let’s just say: It’s not what you want.
Ultimately, how the Bears play Trubisky’s rookie season in 2017 will determine how his career and their own future pans out. They can’t lose sight of the vision they clearly have in place and they can’t make any knee-jerk reactions if their contingencies such as Glennon and Sanchez don’t work. It’d be too easy to fall into the same pitfalls of other young quarterback failures.
No, the Bears are in position to do something rare. To change how we view successful quarterbacks and their resumes in college such as Trubisky. To stray away from the process they’ve set would be ignoring a chance at changing history and instead adding to a hall of shame.
So surely, of all teams, the Bears can be trusted to bring along Trubisky in the proper way, right?
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.