The Bears have hit on the best available strategy for their quarterbacks. In order to understand why, let’s walk through them in order of experience.
First, Mark Sanchez. A veteran with 77 games under his belt (including 72 as a starter), Sanchez is probably best-known for his biggest mistakes. Assemble a 94.5 passer rating in six playoff games? Fine. Play at or near replace-level for 2 franchises? Whatever. Fumble once by running into someone’s butt? It’ll mark a man for life.
There are calls in some portions of the fanbase to cut Sanchez, but this makes no sense. He is a valuable presence in two ways. First, he is by many accounts a fantastic mentor. If he wants to keep his identity as a quarterback in the NFL, keeping him on the roster is the best way to secure these services. If he doesn’t want to be “just a coach,” then some other team will likely offer him the vet minimum or something like it. Just as importantly, however, Sanchez is an insurance policy. If Glennon is incapable of playing (either due to inability or injury), then the man from USC can play instead of forcing Trubisky into action. Note--he can play. He doesn’t have to play. However, his presence on the roster gives Chicago flexibility.
Second, Mike Glennon. Glennon is not an amazing quarterback, but (preseason struggles aside) he is also probably a low-end starter. His 5.28 ANY/A and 84.6 passer rating suggest that he’s not terrible, but that he’s also not very good, either. However, like Sanchez he serves the franchise in two ways. If he plays well, then he provides the team with a short-term solution at quarterback and perhaps a tradable asset in the future. If he plays less than well, then he at least serves as a bridge to the quarterback of the future. Starting him makes sense--even if he is poor, he provides cover for the player who matters most.
“Giving” him the starting job is not about making good on some sort of promise to #8. It is not about fairness. Rather, having a set roster takes the pressure off of Mitchell Trubisky in that he knows he has time to get things right. Even for the hardcore fans of locker-room competition out there, the fork in decision making is simple. If he’s not ready, he doesn’t have to get forced into action early. If he is ready, he knows his challenge is to be so good at his craft he forces decision-makers to change their tune. Thus, Glennon provides motivation and security all at once. I’m sort of amazed the franchise is handling the matter this well.
Third, Connor Shaw is a bad quarterback. Not by the standards of the American population, certainly. Not even by the standards of people who played quarterback in college. However, whatever intangibles he might have, his tangibles are lacking at the pro level. In his one career start, he posted a 55.2 passer rating. He is not some amazing field general hiding amongst the ranks of the downtrodden. He has put together a couple of decent drives at times, usually in preseason games against low-quality opposition, but he has yet to deliver on the field in a real game. Maybe he will amount to something, but it is far more likely that he will not. He does not provide the “insurance” or stability gained by holding on to Mark Sanchez, nor does he have even the limited upside of Mike Glennon.
Finally, there is Mitchell Trubisky. People might argue that he is at great risk of being injured in the fourth preseason game because he might be surrounded by an inferior line. They might dread the chance of a fluke accident. Those things are possible--something like this happened to Connor Shaw. However, two consecutive offseasons have seen starting quarterbacks go on season-long IR due to non-contact injuries simply practicing. In fact, besides “fear”, there is little in the way of evidence to suggest that somehow Trubisky will be more in danger on Thursday night than he has been all season long. There is no rash of quarterbacks losing the season due to inferior lines and cheap shots.
There is a slightly better argument to the idea that if Trubisky needs reps, it makes sense for him to get them in live games instead of an exhibition, but even this does not take into consideration how people actually learn (and from most accounts, quarterbacks are people, too). A certain amount of difficulty is intrinsic to the job of being a quarterback in the NFL, and no matter what a staff does to remove some of the burden, that difficulty will always be present. However, people typically learn best when all of the extraneous burden of learning a new task is removed, allowing them to focus on the tasks at hand and on how to improve their performance at those tasks. In this case, fans should want Trubisky to work on improving the minutia of his trade (e.g. taking a snap under center) and not winning a game.
In short, people typically need a chance to get the pieces right before they are asked to put it all together, and they typically put things together best when they are allowed to do so in an environment with all unnecessary distraction removed. A meaningless preseason game against opponents who also want to play their best--but when the outcome matters less--is a much more conducive environment to learning than playing against the defending NFC champions looking to get back into the playoffs. At some point, Trubisky will need to be ready for that moment. However, he does not need to be ready yet, and so it makes sense to remove the pressure from him until he has gotten the basics down.
This is why it makes sense to take the minor risk of putting him in on Thursday, and it’s also why it makes sense to have Glennon take the snaps against Atlanta. Trubisky’s development is why it makes sense to have Mark Sanchez as an insurance policy and why the as-yet undiscovered potential of Connor Shaw is less meaningful.
It’s great to see the franchise take a long-term approach to the position, and it gives me hope that better things are to come.