It’s amusing to think about now, but this time last year the Bears had a quarterback “controversy”. Considering the talents or lack thereof of Mike Glennon, who held Trubisky back during the initial stages of the 2017 season, this competition was more self-imposed than legitimate.
Going into the first year of Matt Nagy, this is firmly Trubisky’s team. It’s “his year” and more. The onus is on him to perform, or else. He’s the one mandated to lead the Bears out of the darkness. And there are no legitimate question marks against that sentiment. After all, the Bears themselves have constructed their off-season around his talents. What has to happen after the fact is Trubisky helping the Bears cash in on their major bet.
Cashing in means Trubisky rising to the top half of passers in the league - a fluid evaluation cloud - bar none. Jackpot is Trubisky becoming a superstar quarterback the Bears haven’t had in decades. No one ever said the last, most important part of Ryan Pace’s rebuild in Chicago would be easy.
As we head into this year’s training camp fun in Bourbonnais, let’s examine the three primary developments about Trubisky’s current situation going into the 2018 season.
Full steam ahead
Want to know what the best endorsement of Trubisky by this current Bears regime is? The hefty investment into playmaking pass targets in free agency and the draft. Acquiring Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller says two things.
The first is that Trubisky obviously needed more help after last year’s aberrations in the passing offense. That much is obvious. Most quality quarterbacks in their respective primes couldn’t consistently succeed throwing to the likes of Joshua Bellamy, Kendall Wright, and Dontrelle Inman as their go-to weapons. It was the most glaring Bears’ offensive roster issue of 2017.
The second, and less clearly so, is that the Bears believed their struggles throwing the ball (32nd in the league in pass yards, 26th in passer rating), was much more on Trubisky’s poor supporting cast than anything the young quarterback did. That any pitfalls Trubisky went through were almost entirely related to the lack of sufficient support around an extremely green quarterback learning how to play the position on the fly. Keeping the status quo at receiver would’ve been reminiscent of the early Jay Cutler era when Jerry Angelo believed that quarterbacks wave magic wands and offenses immediately become elite with the presence of an above average man under center alone.
The Bears were keen on not repeating their own history. They were determined to glean a valuable lesson in how to not build around the core of your franchise. Their investments around Trubisky in upgrading his receivers, taking a hand-picked coach that’s enamored with his ability in Nagy, and structuring Halas Hall around the ground he walks speaks to the Bears believing the second-year passer can be special.
It says the Bears’ higher-ups think Trubisky doesn’t have any more excuses to falter, and can’t possibly or reasonably fail: growing pains in Nagy’s offense aside.
A support system
The only way to improve in any craft is to first learn from your mistakes. To receive honest and constructive criticism from a roundabout of different voices from contrasting backgrounds. There is no tried and true method to developing an NFL quarterback. If there was, no team in the NFL would have quarterback issues because everyone would copy the same model and be set for years. It would eliminate the parody of appearances like journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Alas, that’s why the braintrust the Bears have surrounded Trubisky with should be heartening. For as much as there’s disagreement on how to bring along quarterbacks in other facets, hardly any pundit will disagree with having a variety of specifically tailored coaches and rostered players tutoring the future. Have your quarterback gain experience in games, then dissect his play in a continual meeting of the minds as he gradually ascends.
Nagy is the coach that’s received the relentless hype the past half year, as he should. He’s the head coach and young gun revitalizing the Bears. But it’s the structure of his staff, and how it relates to Trubisky that should garner more attention.
Take a look at a tale of this hierarchy tape. With Nagy calling the plays for the Bears’ offense and leading the whole roster, the presence of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will be more akin to play design as well as acting as the second lead voice for Trubisky to bounce any concerns off of. Should Helfrich be preoccupied elsewhere for whatever reason (a quarterback’s concerns in an offense always come first), there’s the return of quarterbacks’ coach Dave Ragone to assist. Trubisky’s input in how Ragone helped him as a rookie is the reason Ragone is still coaching him. If any coach understands and can relate to Trubisky best, regardless of how Nagy and Helfrich manage to reach him, it’s Ragone.
And when Trubisky’s not around any coaches, sitting on the locker room, or on the playing field, he has backup Chase Daniel to lean on. Daniel was specifically brought in to be the on-hand mentor for Trubisky. Yes, the Bears are compensating Daniel highly (the second-highest paid backup quarterback in football) in the event that Trubisky misses any time. However, no NFL team operates as if it’s going to work effectively without it’s starting quarterback. The honest truth is that if your starter goes down for anything more than a game your season is over, with the caveat of rare exceptions like last year’s Eagles.
Daniel, and all of his 78 career passing attempts in eight seasons, instead has a responsibility in Chicago to be the final face of an intricate support system for Trubisky. He’s the veteran that’s been there and done that around quarterbacks the Bears want Trubisky to emulate like the Saints’ Drew Brees or Eagles’ Carson Wentz. His words of wisdom as a player by that very nature carry more weight with Trubisky than Chicago’s coaches.
Trubisky has an abundance of hurdles to clear before he lives up to the billing the Bears bestow upon him. In that time, he’s going to have peaks and valleys. The Bears have perfectly established a system that makes sure his questions not only never go unanswered, but are treated with meticulous attention to detail: from a multitude of valued perspectives. No matter where Trubisky turns, there’s always going to be someone waiting for him with open arms.
Setting a high bar
What this boils down to is Trubisky continuing to ride the wave of momentum he’s enjoyed in 2018. The Bears have put every failsafe in place to make sure this ride is as smooth as possible. It’s up to him to keep the key in the ignition and steer the Bears upward as they establish their identity. No one associated with the Bears has more on their plate this year than Trubisky. No one is tasked with more responsibility and is weighed down by expectations more than him either.
That makes it difficult to judge what a good 2018 season for Trubisky is. Or, even locking down what has to be seen from him at training camp as a starting goal.
On the latter, you’re going to want to see Trubisky conduct the Bears’ offense comfortably. This is a high gear attack with nuance and unpredictability. By the time Chicago’s stay in Bourbonnais is over, Trubisky better have the general foundation of Nagy’s tasks firmly ingrained. In fact, he should have all concepts and plays mastered as the maestro. Wrinkles and adjustments will be added and made during game action.
In terms of play by a rudimentary numbers glance, the average of quarterbacks ranked No. 10 to 15 in touchdown passes was 20 in 2017. It seems like a low number, but anything at that measure and above should be seen as a success and step up for Trubisky. This is an offense in it’s beginning stages working out kinks, so it likely won’t be as prolific as many surmise.
With interceptions, ideally Trubisky keeps his turnovers here in the single digits. Seeing as how he threw seven interceptions on only 330 attempts in 2017 (28th least in the NFL), the easiest thought is seeing Trubisky actually occasionally struggle with picks in an offense that asks for not only riskier throws, but more of them in general. Having Trubisky anywhere around 12 to 14 interceptions in 2018 is a win for Chicago.
Outside of his statistical line the hype is ever present for Trubisky. Everyone at Halas Hall has been raving about him for months. He’s almost always the first topic of discussion concerning the Bears. But talk is cheap and hollow without tangible play and leadership.
Trubisky has done none of that talking or inflating. He prefers to lead by example. He knows he’ll be judged by living up to everyone’s praise and setting the tone for his teammates first. Living up to lofty goals while embracing becoming the next true face of the Bears’ franchise.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.