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.