Bears

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

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USA TODAY

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera saw a lot of Mitchell Trubisky last year, with the North Carolina quarterback on TV quite a bit in the Charlotte area. The Panthers, set with Cam Newton, weren’t in the market for a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Trubisky nonetheless stood out to the seventh-year Carolina coach and former Super Bowl-winning Bears linebacker. 

For Rivera, more than Trubisky’s arm strength and athleticism jumped off the screen. 

“Leadership,” Rivera pointed to. “When you watch him when he was playing — I love watching guys that either get on their teammates when they’re not doing it or they take accountability when they make a mistake. And you saw that with him.

“… We think the young man has got what it takes. We like who’s he’s gonna become. We do. We think the future can be bright for him. We are big fans here.”

Trubisky took accountability for both of his turnovers against the Minnesota Vikings: The interception Harrison Smith baited him into was certainly his fault, but his sack-strip fumble was more the result of Everson Griffen jumping the snap and blowing past left tackle Charles Leno. Against the Baltimore Ravens, Trubisky also lost a fumble on a sack-strip when cornerback Lardarius Webb hit him and dislodged the ball.

Trubisky’s explanation of that fumble was that he moved off his first read too quickly, causing him to miss Webb making a beeline for him in the backfield. But according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, that fumble wasn’t the quarterback’s fault. 

“That’s because he’s a stud,” Loggains said of Trubisky taking responsibility for it. “We screwed the protection up. We should have been sliding to the guy. The guy should not have been coming free. That’s Mitch taking a bullet that he doesn’t need to take. The reality is he saw the guy coming and tried to get over to the check down quickly but we got to do a better job up front protecting him.”

But that Trubisky was willing to say he was at fault for that fumble plays into why he quickly gained the respect of the Bears’ the locker room. That’s what a quarterback should be doing when speaking to the media after the game — accepting responsibility and deflecting off his teammates, even if he’s not at fault. That kind of stuff doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Stopping Superman

Pernell McPhee offered this goal up for his fellow defensive teammates this week: Make sure Newton stays as Clark Kent on Sunday. 

“He’s a very talented guy, but the only thing I told the defense is let's make him be Cam Newton, not Superman,” McPhee said, referring to Newton’s signature touchdown move. “We don't want him opening up the cape.”

So how does a defense stop Newton from being Superman?

“He’s a very versatile quarterback,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Obviously his running the ball, whether it be through his improvising with scrambling on called pass plays, or the called running plays they do have for him, that’s a strength for him. We can’t just focus on stopping that. We’ve gotta stop Cam Newton the passer and the runner. They’ve got good running backs they’re handing it off to and receivers and running backs he’s throwing it to, so you’ve got a total offense to stop.”

One point to note here: Newton threw three interceptions last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and had been picked off eight times this year. A Bears secondary that intercepted Joe Flacco twice last week could have some more shots at takeaways on Sunday. 

High praise

Sunday will mark Thomas Davis’ 156th game in the NFL, with the linebacker playing every one of those with the Carolina Panthers. He played for John Fox from 2005-2010. But where we’re going here is what he had to say about how the Bears run their offense with a rookie quarterback:

“I think this is probably the best running game that we’ve seen from an offense with a rookie quarterback,” Davis said. “You look at some of the other rookies that come in. Teams want to run the ball. But when you look at the physicality and the style of play that this team plays with, I think that really makes the job a lot easier for a young quarterback. So I definitely feel like that physicality in their running game is definitely going to help him out.”

The Bears ran the ball 50 times against a Baltimore Ravens defense that played a lot more Cover-2 than expected. With star linebacker Luke Kuechly out for Sunday, the Bears may try to use a similar strategy, even if Carolina loads the box more than Baltimore did (a little more than once one every three runs by Jordan Howard). 

But if the Bears’ offense is going to have success, it’s going to be behind Howard, Tarik Cohen and an improving offensive line. Maybe Davis’ comments are hyperbole, but he’s also played a lot more football than you and me.   

Why Dion Sims' return may not lessen Adam Shaheen's role in the Bears' offense

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USA Today

Why Dion Sims' return may not lessen Adam Shaheen's role in the Bears' offense

Dion Sims was limited in practice on Wednesday, but he participated — marking the first practice he took part in since Oct. 27. Sims said he feels “great,” so assuming he’s getting closer to playing on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, that begs the question: What does it mean for Adam Shaheen?

The short answer, according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains: Not much. 

“We don’t want to slow down his progress,” Loggains said. “And as long as he’s making steps in the right direction — we’re high on Dion Sims as well — but we do not want to slow down Adam’s progress that way.”

Shaheen has caught all six of his targets the last two weeks, totaling 80 yards with a touchdown and displaying some encouraging chemistry with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (who was his offseason roommate after the pair were drafted in April). Against Green Bay and Detroit, Shaheen played 52 and 73 percent of the Bears' snaps, respectively. 

The Bears didn’t use Shaheen in Sunday’s critical two-minute drive against the Detroit Lions, though, turning to Daniel Brown instead of their second-round draft pick. Loggians explained that he didn’t want to overload Shaheen with responsibilities after his elevation on the depth chart due to Sims’ illness and Zach Miller’s season-ending injury. So Shaheen was tasked mostly with first- and second-down plays, while Brown became the Bears’ third down and two-minute guy at tight end. 

“It was mainly so Adam could focus in on his role,” Loggains said. “And as he keeps growing that way, we’ll  keep expanding that package for him. But that was the reason why.”

The Bears need Shaheen’s role to expand, though, for him to meet the usual expectations placed upon a 45th overall pick. There are going to be some situations, especially running ones, where Sims has to be on the field, possibly at the expense of Shaheen. But if the Bears were to step back and take a bigger-picture look at their offense, there are some good signs of Shaheen and Trubisky growing together, just as the team hoped when they made the pair their first two selections in the 2017 draft. The return of Sims shouldn’t disrupt that growth. 

“He’s earned the play time the last two weeks,” Loggains said. “He’s played better and better and he had some things on the first level in the blocking game that he needs to improve on that Dion is really good at because he’s played a little bit longer. We do want to play him, continue to grow him, continue to grow him and grow the reps that way, especially without having Zach here. So there is a role that — we’re still missing a little bit of a role that we’re kind of splitting between Adam and Dan. 

“But we’ll continue to play him more, and each game will be a little bit different, how it dictates. But yes, we do see him, his role just like Tarik (Cohen’s) to continue to grow weekly.” 
 

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

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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.”