There are no rookie ‘freebies’ for Mitchell Trubisky, but Carson Wentz a good lesson in patience

USA Today

There are no rookie ‘freebies’ for Mitchell Trubisky, but Carson Wentz a good lesson in patience

The Bears like that Mitchell Trubisky is his own toughest critic, with the quarterback consistently owning his mistakes and shortcomings to his coaches, teammates and the media. After he missed an open Benny Cunningham near the end zone in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains wanted to rip him, but Trubisky was already “really upset” as he arrived on the sidelines about making such a poor throw. 

After the game, Trubisky said “there’s no rookie excuse,” for some of the struggles he’s had, and for his 2-4 record as the Bears’ starting quarterback. But to an extent, that excuse is valid, even if Trubisky has no interest in using it. 

“He shouldn’t give himself a pass,” Loggains said. “He should hold himself to a very high standard, because we do. but we all know the reality of the situation. He (hasn’t played much) since high school. Every day to this point that he’s taken the field, he’s played better. 

“That’s what we keep telling him — keep stacking good games, we’re gonna keep playing better around you, we’ll keep putting you in good situations, and the wins are going to come.”

Not only is Trubisky currently tasked with learning the Bears’ offense, and the wrinkles that are added to it each week, but he also is still getting comfortable with a group of players he either didn’t play much with, or at all, during training camp, when he was the third-string quarterback. And on top of that, he’s having to deal with opposing defensive coordinators knowing that, and continually throwing looks at him that they haven’t put on film before. 

The experiences and knowledge that will help Trubisky succeed aren’t gained in a week or a few games. They’re gained over the course of a season, and right now, Trubisky is halfway through his first year (he’s made six starts, and barring something unforeseen, has six more to go). 

Consider the growth of Carson Wentz, 2016’s No. 2 overall pick, who’s made tremendous strides in Year 2 as a starter in the NFL. Almost every relevant statistic for Wentz has been significantly better in 2017 than it was in 2016:

Year GS Record Comp% Yards Y/A TD TD% INT INT% Rate Sack%
2016 16 7-9 62.4 3,782 6.2 16 2.6 14 2.3 79.3 5.2
2017 10 9-1 59.7 2,430 7.6 25 7.9 5 1.6 103.4 6.7

That growth can be attributed to a number of things, including the Eagles staffing their offense with weapons like Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. But Wentz deserves most of the credit for the strides he’s made thanks to applying the experience and knowledge he gained as a rookie to what’s now a 9-1 Eagles team in 2017. 

“It’s really expected when you’re drafted high and play right away that in the second year you transition well and really deliver for your team,” Trubisky said. “It’s good to look at those guys and see where they’ve gone from Year 1 to Year 2 and just talk to them about being a leader in the locker room and trying to improve (off) the weaknesses they see.”

So Trubisky is at least cognizant of the bigger picture, and Loggains has tried to remind his rookie quarterback of the incremental gains he’s already made through six starts. Trubisky wants to be better, and will continue to be hard on himself in his efforts to get better. 

But the optimistic outlook is Trubisky has all the talent and intangibles to follow the Year 1 to Year 2 path taken by Wentz. Perhaps a year from now, we’ll look back on this Bears-Eagles matchup and say it actually wasn’t the optimistic outlook, but the realistic outlook. 

“To me, when you’re in the situation we’re in right now where you’re not winning as many games as we want to, you have to celebrate small victories,” Loggains said. “And for us, with Mitchell, it’s, hey, you did what you needed to do in that two-minute drill to take us down and get us in position. So the growth that way, those one-possession games, he’s going to be the reason why we win those games.” 

Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White


Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White

Questions have been hanging over Kevin White ever since GM Ryan Pace opted to invest the No. 7 pick of the 2015 draft on a wide receiver with one outstanding college season on his resume. Given Pace’s strike for a quarterback with a roughly similar body of work last draft, this may qualify as a Pace “strategy,” but that’s for another discussion closer to the draft.

But in the wake of signings at wide receiver by Pace and the Bears over the start-up days of free agency, a new and perhaps darker cloud is forming over White. This is beyond the obvious ones visited on the young man by his succession of three season-ending injuries, and by a nagging belief in some quarters that White is a bust irrespective of the injuries.

The point is not that White will never amount to anything in the NFL. Marc Colombo came back from a pair of horrendous leg injuries to have a career as a solid NFL tackle, albeit with the Dallas Cowboys, not the Bears.

The problem facing White now, assuming he comes back able to stay healthy in a competition with Cameron Meredith for the spot opposite Allen Robinson, is whether there is reasonably going to be a roster spot the Bears can use for him.

This would be on top of whether Pace and the organization could bring themselves to cut ties with a quality individual in a move that would amount to admitting a failure in what was supposed to be a defining initial top-10 pick by a regime committed to building through the draft.

White is still under his rookie contract with its $2.7 million guaranteed for this season, so there is little reason to simply give up on him, even assuming an offset if White then signs on somewhere else.

But Robinson and slot receiver Taylor Gabriel account for two of the starting three wideout spots. For the other wide receiver job, Meredith, also coming off season-ending knee surgery, rates an early edge on White based on Meredith’s 66-catch 2016 season.

If White does not start, he then becomes a backup, and backups are expected to contribute on special teams. It’s what has kept Josh Bellamy in the NFL, and what new Bears tight end Trey Burton points to as his ticket to making it through his first years with Philadelphia.

White doesn’t cover kicks, doesn’t return them, doesn’t block them. The Bears have typically expected special-teams participation from their No. 4-5 receivers, although the fact that Meredith and Robinson are coming off knee injuries, and chances that the Bears will keep six wide receivers in the West Coast offense of Matt Nagy, all could tilt a decision in favor of White simply as insurance/depth, even with his own injury history.

It is difficult not to have a spot of rooting-interest in White, a young guy trying so hard to get a career dream off the ground. It’s just also difficult to see a clear fit in the new Bears world that began forming in earnest in the past several days.

Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?


Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?

Not all that long ago, back in the seemingly promising Dave Wannstedt days, something of an annual narrative began around the Bears. All too frequently since then it has been the refrain of more offseasons than not, including last year’s. And if there is a cause for very, very sobering realism in the wake of the heady wave of free-agency signings in the first days of the new league year, it lies in what has so often transpired to put the lie to that optimism.

The mantra then, and now, has been various iterations of, “If these three (or four, or six, or 12) things work out, the Bears are gonna be good this year.” Because the reality is that all those what-ifs seldom, if ever, all come to pass, whether because of injury, mis-evaluated abilities or whatever.

Look no further than this time last offseason, just considering the offense:

If Kevin White can come back from (another) injury, if Markus Wheaton flashes his Pittsburgh speed, if Dion Sims takes that next step from a promising Miami stint, if Kyle Long is back from his lower-body issues, if Cameron Meredith comes close to those 66 catches again, if Mike Glennon has the upside that led the GM to guarantee him $18.5 million, and hey, Victor Cruz, too, if… and so on.

And exactly zero of those “if’s” came to pass, with the result that John Fox and Dowell Loggains became idiots.

The point is not to a picker of nit or sayer of nay. But the fact is that a lot of the offseason moves and player development ALL need to come down in the plus-column for the Bears to be even as good as they were back in, say, 2015, when the offense had Martellus Bennett at tight end, Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver, Eddie Royal coming in at slot receiver (with 37 catches in an injury-shortened season), Kyle Long at his Pro-Bowl best, and Jay Cutler about to have the best full season of his career. And a new (proven) head coach and defensive coordinator, and an offensive coordinator with head-coaching talent.

All those things “worked” for a team that would wobble to a 6-10 year.

Now consider 2018:

The current top two wide receivers are both – both – coming off season-ending ACL injuries;

The incoming slot receiver has never had a season as reception-productive as the one (Kendall Wright) he is replacing (59) or as many as Royal had in just nine 2015 games (37);

The new tight end has never been a starter and has fewer career catches (63) than Bennett averaged (69) in three supremely disappointing Bears seasons;

The best offensive lineman (Long) is coming off missing essentially half of each of the past two seasons with injuries, and the co-best (Sitton) is gone from an offensive line that was middle of the pack last year and has high hopes for two linemen (Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush) who’ve been largely backups, and a third (Jordan Morgan) who missed his rookie season with an injury;

And the quarterback (Trubisky) upon whom the franchise rests, who needs to overcome any so-called sophomore jinx and improve from a rookie level (77.8 passer rating) that was barely better than Cutler’s worst NFL season (76.8).

All of which sounds negative, but it really isn’t, just a perspective. Offseasons are about hope, but realism isn’t all bad, either.