Understanding how steep Mitchell Trubisky’s learning curve really is


Understanding how steep Mitchell Trubisky’s learning curve really is

Looking at the care and feeding of a Mitchell Trubisky from a slightly different angle suggests that the rookie’s development has been quite a bit more difficult – and better – than realized from just a cursory look. For perspective purposes, consider:

The marquee Bears free-agency signing in 1994 was quarterback Erik Kramer, lured away from the division-rival Detroit Lions whom Kramer had quarterbacked to the playoffs two of the previous three seasons.

By midseason, though, Kramer had lost his starting job to Steve Walsh after successive and progressively more horrible outings against the Minnesota Vikings, Lions and Green Bay Packers.

Something was odd about that. I approached Kramer after a last-straw nightmare against the Packers and wondered why his play against those three was so abysmal (three touchdown passes, six inteceptions and eight sacks) – given that those all were teams with which he was intimately familiar, as opponents and as his own team (Lions). Meaning: He had more than a passing knowledge of where those defenses would line up and how they’d play.

“The problem isn’t knowing where those guys are going to be,” Kramer said. “It’s that I don’t know where MY guys are going to be.”

That was not Kramer knocking his receivers; it was a statement that he felt frustratingly lost in a new offense, a West Coast scheme under coordinator Ron Turner. Kramer was benched following a Green Bay game in which he threw two interceptions in just 10 first-half attempts.

Fast-forward to 2017 and understand how steep the slope is that Trubisky, who had only 13 collegiate starts, is attempting to climb.

Kramer at least knew what Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota defenses were doing. Trubisky hadn’t seen more than film of the Packers and Vikings before facing them, and will see the Lions for the first time next Sunday.

Add to that the exponentially complicating factor that Trubisky is still learning a Bears playbook that he has only used for five games (preseason and training camp never touch much of the playbook) and is being added to on a weekly basis.

“This is a new offense,” Trubisky said on Wednesday. “I was in North Carolina’s offense for four years, knew it like that back of my hand and could probably throw a check-down without even looking. We’re putting in new plays every week now so it’s a little different. In my development, I’ll have to memorize where everything’s at.

“I’m getting better with that each week. And some plays are better than others, just going through progressions and what I’m comfortable with, so I need to keep doing that. I’ll get better at that and get the ball out of my hands. It’ll get better.”

It needs to, if only for Trubisky’s well-being. Illustrative of Trubisky doing a lot – a WHOLE lot – of processing, he has taken sacks at a concerning rate: one sack every seven drop-backs for his last four starts. For comparison’s sake, Tom Brady takes one every 21 dropbacks. Aaron Rodgers, one of the more sacked elite quarterbacks, gets taken down once every 14,5 dropbacks. Mike Glennon, even with his and the offense’s early issues, was sacked once every 18.5 dropbacks. To his credit, Trubisky knows the chief reason for the 15 sacks over the last four games.

“The sacks are more so me holding on to the football than a breakdown in protection; [the offensive linemen] have been doing an awesome job,” Trubisky said. “I just have to continue to go through my progressions, get the ball out and find the checkdowns. The more and more I play within the offense, I think you'll see growth and me getting the checkdowns and getting the ball out of my hands, so, yeah, that's just where I need to take another step.”

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One of my media colleagues raised a poignant point about coach John Fox, viewing Fox against the backdrop of Lovie Smith, fired after a 10-6 season and an 81-63 record as Bears coach. Smith lost a Super Bowl played against quarterback Peyton Manning. Fox lost a Super Bowl played WITH Manning.

So how good a coach is Fox, really? Better than Bill Belichick? Mmmmm… . Better than Bill Walsh? Ummmm… .


Belichick is a combined 53-62 as a head coach without Tom Brady as his quarterback. That would be a winning percentage of .460.

Walsh without Joe Montana achieved a 49ers record of 17-23, a win percentage of .425.

Fox with Manning didn’t win that Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks. But without Manning, Fox is unofficially 93-108 for a win rate of .462.

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.