How Jared Goff’s rookie year could be a cautionary tale for Mitch Trubisky

How Jared Goff’s rookie year could be a cautionary tale for Mitch Trubisky

Without Cameron Meredith, perhaps the biggest question facing the Bears entering the 2017 season is who, if anyone, can step up to fill the production void left by that brutal injury he suffered in Tennessee.

But Meredith’s injury opened up another question: Might it mean Mitch Trubisky won’t see the field as quickly as we might’ve thought based on his excellent preseason?

If the answer to that question is yes, it may have less to do with Trubisky’s own development and the desire to put him in the best possible situation when he makes his regular season debut. And while Trubisky very well could be a guy who makes receivers around him better — which would be the best-case scenario — it’s worth considering the worst case here.

And the closest thing we’ve seen to that worst case happened to Jared Goff last year.

Goff sat out the Los Angeles Rams’ first nine games before coach Jeff Fisher, faced with a 4-5 record and a struggling Case Keenum (9 TDs, 11 INTs), anointed last year’s No. 1 overall pick as the team’s starting quarterback. The Rams lost their next four games, leading to Fisher’s firing, and then finished out the year with three more defeats. Goff’s stats were horrendous: A 54.6 completion percentage, 1,089 yards, 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and a rating of 63.6 to go along with an 0-7 record.

Benny Cunningham had an up-close look at how bad things got last year in Los Angeles, and said the problem wasn’t necessarily Goff, but the rest of the offense not helping him.

“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,” Cunningham, who signed with the Bears in March, said. “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.

“… I just felt like in general we all struggled as an offense. I wouldn’t say he struggled by himself. It’s different when you’re on the inside looking out, you can see exactly what’s going on the depth of a receiver, a missed block by a running back — you see everything. And then in the paper you read the quarterback had two interceptions, so you really don’t get to see the whole detail of it. I feel like everybody played a part in what happened last year.

“… I feel like we failed as an offense. If you look back to the points we put up, the yards per game, as a whole, I just feel like we failed. I feel like the quarterback position in this league, in a lot of places, they take the criticism.”

The Rams’ offensive line was shaky, and while Kenny Britt turned in a 1,000-yard season, Goff lacked a speedy target who could stretch a defense. As a result, opposing defenses continually stacked the box, limiting the effectiveness of running back Todd Gurley (3.2 yards/carry).

As a result, the Rams were last in the NFL in points per game (14) and yards per play (4.4).

[RELATED: Rams radio broadcaster J.B. Long on the Bears Talk Podcast]

The parallels aren’t perfect between the 2016 Rams and 2017 Bears, of course. This year’s Bears have a better offensive line, for one. Trubisky in his first three preseason games has thoroughly out-performed what Goff did in his 2016 preseason, too:

Trubisky: 34/48 (70.8 completion percentage), 354 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 2 sacks

Goff: 22/49 (44.9 completion percentage), 232 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 4 sacks

More than anything, though, Trubisky and Goff are different quarterbacks. Trubisky may be able to make a bad situation better. But Goff’s struggles are worth noting as the question of when, not if, Trubisky plays continues to be asked.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?

Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

USA Today

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Quenton Nelson hasn’t met with the Bears yet during this pre-draft process, and doesn’t have a local visit scheduled with them. But maybe that’s not too surprising.

Harry Hiestand has better intel on him than anyone else after coaching him for the past four years at Notre Dame, after all. 

“Coach Hiestand, he’s known me since I was an immature freshman that wasn’t good at football, until now being a lot more mature and responsible and doing the right thing and a good football player,” Nelson said. “He knows everything about me.”

Could part of that intel provided by Hiestand be that Nelson has the ability to eventually play tackle?

Nelson might be the closest to a “sure thing” prospect in this year’s draft, with his reams of dominant film and off-the-charts work ethic projecting him as an All-Pro for years to come. But that he plays guard is a stumbling block, given interior positions generally don’t hold as much value as tackles in the NFL.

So here’s a potential scenario for the Bears: They draft Nelson at No. 8 — which is still "high" for a guard — and plug him at left guard in 2018. They then, under the careful watch of Hiestand, slide him to tackle in 2019. 

“I’m pretty convinced that Q could do whatever he sets his mind to,” Mike McGlinchey, a first-round tackle in his own right who's Nelson’s ex-Irish teammate and workout buddy, said. “If that’s what teams want him to play, I’m sure he’ll take that head on and perform to the best of his ability.” 

Nelson, to his credit, is confident he could make the switch to tackle (he was recruited by Hiestand as a tackle, and began his college career backing up Zack Martin at tackle). He said the only team that’s asked him about it so far is the Cincinnati Bengals, though it’s unlikely he’ll still be on the board when they pick at No. 21. 

But maybe the thought of guards being significantly less valuable than tackles is slowly becoming antiquated in today’s NFL. Four of the top 10 highest paid offensive linemen, by total contract value, are interior linemen. Three of the top 10 offensive linemen with the most guaranteed money are guards, led by Andrew Norwell, who inked a five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month with $30 million guaranteed at signing. Only one offensive lineman — Nate Solder, who just signed with the New York Giants — is guaranteed more money. 

Following the money, if teams are willing to splash down loads of cash for the best guards in the league, a team may be willing to spend a top-10 pick on a guard who could immediately be among the best at his position in the NFL. Or the calculation for whatever team drafts him may be this: Would you rather have him as a perennial All-Pro guard or "merely" a solid-to-good tackle? 

Regardless of where he ends up playing, though, Nelson is one of those supremely-talented players who takes the right approach to his craft — in other words, one of those guys you just want to get in your building. And while Nelson said he’d love to play for his hometown New York Giants — who could be interested in him with the No. 2 pick — he said getting to link back up with Hiestand would be an incredible opportunity, too. 

“That would be amazing to play for him,” Nelson said. “He’s the one that made me into the player I am today. I wouldn’t be here without him or be in any conversations in the draft without him, so it would mean a lot to play for him again.”