Why the Bears are so confident in Mitchell Trubisky after his NFL debut

Why the Bears are so confident in Mitchell Trubisky after his NFL debut

The Bears expect Mitchell Trubisky’s future stat lines to look a lot better than the one he put up Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings: 12/25, 128 yards, one touchdown, one interception. 

Trubisky struggled against a solid Vikings defense in a 20-17 loss at Soldier Field, but how he struggled is important: It wasn’t because the moment was too big for him, or because he had decision-making issues while going through his progressions. His accuracy waned at times, and his fourth quarter interception — which handed the Vikings the win — stemmed from an aggressive attempt to make a play. These weren’t the same mistakes Mike Glennon made in September. 

After the game, Trubisky’s teammates shouldered the blame for the Bears' fourth loss in five games and praised how he played in his NFL debut. The Bears committed eight penalties and too frequently put the No. 2 overall pick in some difficult situations. 

“You can’t have a young quarterback, first game out there on Monday night football, you just can’t put him in positions like that,” wide receiver Kendall Wright said. “We gotta play football how we know how to play. We can’t have penalties. Penalties beat you every time.”

Beyond the penalties, there was a lack of execution on first down that had a negative ripple effect. Of the Bears’ 20 second down plays, 11 came with seven or more yards to gain; half of their 12 third down snaps came with 10 or more yards to go. 

“We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” Long said. “We need to stay ahead of the sticks, put ourselves in second and manageable, and when we do get third down, (have) conversions and explosive plays, touchdowns.”

Trubisky shouldn’t be absolved of blame, of course. He started the game strong, completing seven of his first nine passes in the first quarter, but only completed five of 16 passes over the final 45 minutes. Trubisky said he should’ve checked down before bolting the pocket or thrown the ball away on that pass Harrison Smith picked off and took ownership of his mistake. 

“I just forced one,” Trubisky said. “Can’t do that, can’t put my team in that situation.”

Trubisky’s teammates, though, had his back even on his most egregious mishap of the night. 

“He was telling everybody it was his fault, but we can’t put him in those positions,” Wright said. “We had plenty of opportunities to win that game before that last minute or however long it was. We had plenty of chances in that game to win it early on.”  

Added tight end Zach Miller, the intended target on Trubisky’s interception: “That’s Mitch being a baller and trying to make a play.”

Trubisky’s playmaking ability has been clear to his teammates since he stepped foot on to the practice fields at Halas Hall and Olivet Nazarene University. These players know what he’s capable of doing, even if it didn’t always show up on Monday. The way they talked in such positive terms about a quarterback who completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in a loss was telling. 

So while Trubisky wasn’t a “magic wand” who could erase the imperfections that plague this team, he was — to use a different metaphor — a spark for the Bears. And the guys around him are confident he'll continue to be that spark going forward. 

“He carries himself as a leader,” Wright said. “I definitely think he’ll bounce back. He’s the type of guy, if he could, he’ll go try to do something extra right now, but unfortunately he can’t. But just gotta go watch the film and be better. Everybody has to be better. It’s not one person, it’s not one person on the team. Everybody has to be better in every position.”

And we’ll give Miller the last word: “I think he did everything he could for us to win that game. I’m excited for his future because he’s a baller.”

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.