Bears

Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff and preaching patience on Mitchell Trubisky

Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff and preaching patience on Mitchell Trubisky

Mitchell Trubisky will inevitably be compared to Deshaun Watson as the 2017 season — and his career — progresses. Watson is off to an eye-catching start to his pro career, leading the Houston Texans to a 57-14 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday and looking every bit like the playmaker he was while leading Clemson to a College Football Playoff championship a year ago. 

But Watson’s strong start to his career doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be better than Trubisky, or that he’ll even have long-term success. What Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said last month about how long it takes young quarterbacks to establish themselves as being elite is relevant here:

“I think it takes a couple years,” Roethlisberger said on a conference call with Chicago media. “That’s why I’m always slow to send too much praise or anoint the next great quarterback after Year 1. I think people in the media and the ‘professionals’ in some of these big sports networks are so quick to anoint the next great one or say that they’re going to be great; this, that and the other. 

“Let’s wait and see what happens after two to three years, after defenses understand what you’re bringing (and) you’re not a surprise anymore. I think it takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks. In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”

The same line of thinking, then, goes for Trubisky: If he lights up the Minnesota Vikings in his NFL debut Monday night and plays well against the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints in October, it’ll be an encouraging beginning to his career, but not necessarily a guarantee he’ll be among the greats. 

That doesn’t mean the excitement should be muted if Trubisky immediately succeeds, especially for a franchise that hasn’t had a quarterback like him in a long time, maybe ever. But patience will be necessary in making long-term evaluations of Trubisky, even with expectations being high. 

“(Watson’s success) doesn’t put pressure on me,” Trubisky said. “Everyone has a different game and everyone has a different situation. That didn’t surprise me at all because I know what kind of player and person Deshaun is. The big stage isn’t going to faze him or myself. 

“So we’re in this new era where young quarterbacks are expected to come in and produce right away like veterans have. It’s a little different. But I think the type of players there are now coming out, they’re able to handle it.”

The Jared Goff question

Just as there should be some caution against rushing to judge a rookie quarterback as the next great one, there should be caution against labeling someone a bust after an ineffective first year. Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff is a perfect example here. 

Last year’s No. 1 overall pick put up dismal numbers while losing all seven starts he had as a rookie with the Los Angeles Rams. The worry was that brutal debut would irreparably mangle Goff’s confidence and make him a Jamarcus Russell or David Carr-esque bust. 

But the message inside the Rams’ locker room was that poor production wasn’t all Goff’s fault. 

“I would say that the situation with Jared Goff was kind of unfair to him because I feel like as a whole offense, we struggled,” running back Benny Cunningham, who played for the Rams last year, said in August. “As a quarterback, being drafted high, you take most of the criticism. But I feel like if the guys around him can help — that’s any quarterback — if the guys around you can execute and help, it makes your job a lot easier.”

The Rams, notably, acquired wide receivers Sammy Watkins (trade), Robert Woods (free agency) and Cooper Kupp (draft), tight end Gerald Everett (draft), center John Sullivan (free agency) and tackle Andrew Whitworth (free agency) between the end of the 2016 season and beginning of the 2017 one. And, crucially, 31-year-old first-year head coach Sean McVay was brought in to implement a fresh offensive system. 

Through four games, Goff leads the NFL in average yards per attempt (9.2), has completed two-thirds of his passes and has seven touchdowns against one interception. The Rams are 3-1 with one of the best offenses in the league a year after Goff quarterbacked one of the worst. These kinds of turnarounds can happen.

Ideally, the Bears won’t need that level of change around Trubisky in 2018 outside of adding a few pass-catching options for him. But if things don’t go as planned over these next 12 games, it’s not a given that Trubisky’s confidence — and chances of being the franchise-changing quarterback the Bears hope he can be — will be ruined. 

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Kevin Fishbain (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel. It’s another losing season for the Bears. So who deserves the most blame: Ryan Pace, John Fox or the players? Plus Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about the Bulls future and if the Celtics will win the East.