Why Chase Daniel made sense to be Mitch Trubisky's backup quarterback

Why Chase Daniel made sense to be Mitch Trubisky's backup quarterback

Here are a few facts about Chase Daniel: He’s highly regarded around the league for his football I.Q. He’s spent the 2013-2016 seasons with either Andy Reid, Matt Nagy and/or Doug Pederson. He’s been a pro for eight seasons and was a Heisman Trophy finalist in college. He’s started two games and thrown 78 passes in the NFL, only three of which have come in the last three seasons. 

One of those things is not like the other. But for the Bears, Daniel’s lack of in-game experience wasn’t a deterrent to signing him to a two-year deal that adds another layer to the structure built around Mitch Trubisky.  

“He has, obviously, knowledge of the offense, Chase does, that's huge, that's only going to help,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “And then I think also the benefit you know look, he's played with Alex Smith, he's played with Drew Brees, he's been around a lot of really good quarterback play, I think that only helps.”

Mark Sanchez was a well-respected mentor figure for Trubisky in 2017, having brought a been-there, done-that perspective to a rookie quarterback experiencing everything for the first time in the NFL. But with the Bears betting big on Nagy’s offense and Trubisky’s ability to effective operate it, grabbing someone who’s tight with Nagy and knows his offense well can be beneficial to last year’s No. 2 overall pick. 

Daniel can be a sounding board and act as sort of a conduit from the coaching staff — Nagy, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone — to Trubisky around Halas Hall. And with the complexities of Nagy’s offense that Trubisky will have to learn, hearing a concept a different way from a teammate does have some benefit. 

“It's very quarterback-intensive,” Daniel said. “It's not just go out there and throw to the open guy. I mean, we're going to spend a lot of time in the classroom, a lot of time in walk-throughs, a lot of time just going through the specifics of this offense. It's very specific from a quarterback perspective in terms of splits by receivers, what route does a tight end have on this concept, where the running back is, the depth of a running back, how many yards on a ZD bend. 

“It's very quarterback intensive, and as a quarterback we're supposed to know that stuff. I'm looking forward to teaching Mitchell.”

This isn’t to say Daniel’s job description as the Bears’ backup quarterback isn't lost on him, not when the world saw Nick Foles sub in for an injured Carson Wentz and lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl title last month. Daniel remains confident he can step in and play if needed — he pointed to running the New Orleans Saints’ first-string offense on Wednesdays in practice last year, which were Brees’ off day. And Daniel felt confident about the handful of games he has played in his career, as well as what he’s done in preseason play. 

But while the Bears aren’t getting a proven backup with in-game experience or snaps in conference titles (at least as a pro; Daniel squared off with Oklahoma's Sam Bradford in back-to-back Big 12 title games while at Missouri) or Super Bowls, that may not be the point here. 2018 is all about Trubisky. It’s not that a contingency plan doesn’t matter, but doing everything possible to create the right environment for Trubisky to develop may be more important.

And signing Daniel should be another step in creating that right environment for the most important player on the Bears. 

“I think one of the biggest things in this league is these rookies quarterbacks, second-year quarterbacks get put way too much on their plate,” Daniel said. “And I think here we’re going to try to simplify things a little bit, get back to the base offense that Matt runs and just letting Mitch play freely and not overload his plate. Just go out there from Day One and have fun and sling it around a little bit, play with confidence.” 

How this year's free agent excitement feels different for the Bears

How this year's free agent excitement feels different for the Bears

Every year around this time, NFL teams welcome their priority free agents to their new cities, and those free agents talk about how excited they are to be in their new city with their new team. It’s pretty standard stuff — of course everyone’s in a good mood after signing an eight-figure contract that gives them or adds to generational wealth. 

But something felt different about how the five players the Bears introduced on Thursday at Halas Hall talked about their new team. These weren’t general platitudes about being happy to be here. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Chase Daniel and Cody Parkey all, in one way or another, easily offered specifics to their excitement. And for each player, those specifics had a common thread: Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky. 

“It was a good fit for me,” Robinson said. “When you look at the possible situations, once they hired coach Nagy, … You kind of see the offense that he runs, you know how everything gets run with the quarterback situation, being close to home, there were a lot of factors that played in my favor.”

“I had a few interests in free agency but about the Bears it was just Nagy’s offense, just his creativity and the things that he did when he was with the Chiefs,” Gabriel said. “I feel like for me it was a no-brainer, and coming from with Tyreek Hill and the things that he did with him to move him around and get him open, it was a no-brainer for me.”

“(Trubisky) did some really good things,” Daniel said. “I’m excited to dive in with him deeper and get started with him. From everything I’ve heard, everyone I’ve seen he’s a really great guy. So I’m ready to work with him.” 

Ryan Pace has previously tried to swing for the fences in free agency, only to come up with some big whiffs. Cornerback A.J. Bouye turned down more money from the Bears a year ago to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example. And his instinct proved to be right: The Jaguars went to the AFC Championship game, while the Bears languished in the basement of the NFC North and fired their coach on New Year’s Day. 

But the Bears proved to be a much better destination for free agents this time around, with a young, relatable head coach in place and a developing, well-thought-of quarterback running the offense. The money is important, but if these guys were getting relatively similar offers, that the Bears were able to effectively sell their upside and stability is important. 

Why else would Burton, a guy who threw one of the most famous touchdowns in Super Bowl history and has the ring to show for it, leave for a team that’s lost 10 or more games in each of the last four seasons? 

“You can never underestimate how important youth is and guys who are willing to learn and willing to get better,” Burton said. The oldest member of the Bears’ offense, it’s worth noting, is Daniel:

It’s one thing to take the money, and it’s another thing to truly want to be with a team for reasons more than dollar signs. The feeling at Halas Hall today was that these players wanted to be here not just because of the money, but because they genuinely can see a winning future on the horizon. 

And there’s another layer to this, too: Before Pace or any of the players filed into the media room, almost the entire Bears’ offensive coaching staff, as well as Nagy and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, grabbed seats along the wall. That shouldn’t be a lost note, especially as Pace talked up how good the communication has been between the front office, scouts and coaching staff in this process.

“One thing that was good this year was our alignment with coaches and just feeling that,” Pace said. “Matt does an unbelievable job of painting a vision for the player and then it’s up to us to go find those guys with our coaching staff, and I feel very aligned in that right now and excited about this.

“… When we’re all united, our coaches and our scouts in our vision for the player and how we feel about the player, let’s go get that guy and give it our best shot. And we did that. If you would’ve told me two days ago that, hey, I’d be coming here talking about these five players, we all would’ve taken that. The whole building’s excited right now.” 
We’ll see if this excitement turns into wins — which have been scarce around these parts — come September. The most important factor in determining how successful the Bears will be in 2018 will be the play of Trubisky. But these five players are all here to help Trubisky grow, and they wouldn’t have signed here had they not had confidence in that growth under Nagy’s watch. 

“(Nagy’s a) smooth dude, man,” Gabriel said. “I like his swag a little bit. It’s nice. Just his offensive mind. Meeting him the first time, it felt like I knew him for a long time, not just meeting him for the first time. I feel like we’re going to gel together and create a lot of things.

“… I looked up a few of (Trubisky’s) highlights on YouTube as well, and the guy can sling it, man and when we signed the other day, the fist thing I asked him was ‘How’s your deep ball?’ So I’m excited to be with him and excited to get in and play with him.”

Why Prince Amukamara thinks Allen Robinson is exactly who the Bears needed

Why Prince Amukamara thinks Allen Robinson is exactly who the Bears needed

Highlight reels posted to social media are an easily-sharable way to get excited about a player in mid-March, when the first games of the 2018 NFL season are still nearly half a year away. But a different, and maybe better, way to judge a player is by how he practices: That influences not only what he can put on those highlight reels, but how he’s perceived and accepted by his coaches and teammates. 

Prince Amukamara had a first-hand look at Allen Robinson’s practice habits in 2016, when the two were teammates with the Jacksonville Jaguars. And the Bears’ cornerback, who inked a three-year deal on Wednesday, came away impressed. 

“Allen Robinson was a nightmare in practice, and I say that in the best way possible,” Amukamara said. "He’s very, very competitive. If he makes a play, he’s going to let you know it, and he just works extremely hard."

What makes Robinson such a difficult matchup, Amukamara explained, is his elite athleticism to pair with his 6-foot-3, 220 pound frame. Even if a cornerback feels like he’s covering Robinson well, he can go up and get passes with a large catch radius that can’t be defended. 

And even more promising, as Amukamara sees it, is Robinson’s youth and his potential for growth. That 2016 season was a “down” year, as it compared to Robinson’s 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown 2015 season, with 73 catches for 883 yards and six touchdowns. But Amukamara sees a higher ceiling for Robinson, and said he’s an ideal fit for the Bears’ offense. 

“He’s so raw, he’s super young and I think he’s definitely what this team needs,” Amukamara said. “He’s a big-play guy. Not too long ago, he was one of the leaders in touchdowns and yards in this league and I know he’s excited to get back to that.”