Jameis Winston

Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

All of the Mitch Truisky expectation qualifiers have been installed — no magic wand for the offense, only 13 college starts, not out of a pro-style system at North Carolina, and so on and so on. But irrespective of any pressure on the job statuses of GM Ryan Pace or coach John Fox, the expectations of the rookie quarterback over the next season-and-a-half or so should be more, far more, not less.

The reason lies in one of those things that run counter to most conventional-wisdom assumptions about quarterbacking in the NFL. The Bears hope, in the deepest corners of the franchise, that it continues.

That “it” is the strong — as in “near”- or actual “playoff-grade” — play of quarterbacks within their first three and often fewer seasons, a time frame which was once the norm and still is arguably preferred. Aaron Rodgers sat several years behind Brett Favre after arriving as the Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 draft choice in 2005 (20 picks after the Bears had grabbed Cedric Benson), and “I was very thankful for the opportunity, now as I look back, to grow,” Rodgers said before the Bears game this year.

But in an era when defenses have become increasingly sophisticated, and numbers of top college quarterbacks are coming out of spread offenses and systems far from “pro style,” quarterbacks have had positive impacts with increasing suddenness.

Consider some case studies from the last several years:

Player | Team | Drafted | Result

Teddy Bridgewater | Vikings | 2014 | 2015 NFC North champions

Jared Goff | Rams | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC West, current No. 3-ranked passer in 2017

Robert Griffin III | Redskins | 2012 | NFC East champions, rookie season

Andrew Luck | Colts | 2012 | Playoffs first 3 seasons

Dak Prescott | Cowboys | 2016 | NFC East champions in 2016

Carson Wentz | Eagles | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC East

Jameis Winston | Bucs | 2015 | 2-14 Bucs in 2014 were 6-10 in 2015 and 9-7 last season

Success is far from automatic, and to some extent lies in the eye of the beholder and has a time element. “Everybody was calling Goff a bust sometimes last season,” said Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, now with his hand on the Trubisky steering wheel and throttle. “And the teams around the guys are obviously enormous factors.”

To wit: Goff went No. 1 overall, usually a spot belonging to the most woeful team from the previous year. But he went to a Rams team coming off a 7-9 season that dumped its draft to move up from 15th for him. Likewise, Wentz went to a 7-9 team (Philadelphia) that traded up. These weren’t Peyton Manning going to 3-13 Indianapolis and Ryan Leaf to 4-12 San Diego (1998).

But Luck was the No. 1-overall pick by an Indianapolis team that went 3-13 in 2011, then 11-5 in Luck’s first year. Washington was 5-11 in 2011, then 10-6 and NFC East champions in RGIII’s rookie season.

Trubisky has gone to a 3-13 team, one with among the least productive groups of wide receivers in the NFL. On the other hand, after Troy Brown, name two other New England Patriots wide receivers from their early Super Bowls.

Note to the rookie: It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools (see: Jay Cutler).

And Tom Brady had started zero games and thrown all of 3 passes, 2 incomplete, as a rookie backup on a 5-11 Patriots team in 2000 before starting in relief of Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

But the game and the players, particularly the quarterbacks have changed.

“In 2005, I don’t think the quarterbacks were as ready to play as maybe some of the guys are now,” Rodgers said. “There’s better coaching, better awareness, there’s better coaching at a younger level. If you’re not in a ‘raise-you-foot-up, look-the-sideline, let-the-coach-call-the-play offense,’ you’re doing some more stuff now at the college level.”

All the Bears ask is for Trubisky to do more stuff now at the NFL level.

For either Jameis Winston or the Bears’ secondary, something’s gotta give

For either Jameis Winston or the Bears’ secondary, something’s gotta give

Only three quarterbacks had a higher percentage of their passes intercepted last year than Jameis Winston, who threw 18 picks in his 567 throws (3.2 percent). By pure totals, those 18 interceptions were only behind the 21 thrown by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. 

Compare Winston’s turnover numbers to Matt Ryan’s last year (seven interceptions in 534 passes, 1.3 percent), and the point is: The Bears’ defense should have more opportunities for takeaways in Week 2 than they did in Week 1. But can a defense that only had eight interceptions last year convert them?

“Jameis is a guy who believes in his arm, he believes in his receivers,” linebacker Sam Acho said. “He's going to throw into double coverage, he's going to make some throws that we're going to have opportunities to pick off. We have to take advantage of those opportunities. He's going to be in the pocket, he's going to be staying in the pocket, so we have to get after him, try and force a fumble on him and try and change the game.”

Winston’s risk-taking comes an ability to make explosive plays, which was on full display last year when the Bears picked off the former No. 1 overall pick once (by Harold Jones-Quartey) and sacked him four times — and still lost, 36-10. Still, the Bucs are 8-12 when Winston throws an interception and 7-5 when he doesn’t. And when Winston throws two interceptions, Tampa Bay is 1-7. 

“Every interception has a story to it and I would expect those interceptions will come down for him in Year 3,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. 

Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans pointed to Winston’s risk-taking as an area in which he might improve this year, too. If he can, he could finish the 2017 season as a top 10 quarterback. 

But much like the Bears’ defense needing to prove its takeaway drought will end, Winston needs to prove his propensity for turnovers is a thing of the past, too. One of those two narratives will change — or at least start to change — on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. 

NFL makes it official: Bears-Bucs will play in Tampa on Sunday

raymondjames.png
USA TODAY

NFL makes it official: Bears-Bucs will play in Tampa on Sunday

The NFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Tuesday morning that the team will host the Bears at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

The league had been assessing the impact Hurricane Irma had on both the stadium and surrounding area before making a final decision on where the game would be played.

The game will kick off at its regularly scheduled time of noon CT.

“We have been working tirelessly with the Tampa Sports Authority, as well as the NFL league office, to ensure that Raymond James Stadium would be available to host our season opener against the Chicago Bears this Sunday.” Buccaneers Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford said in a statement. “Hosting the game is important to us, as Tampa Bay has been through a lot over the past few days. We look forward to providing our fans and the entire region an opportunity to come together this Sunday to kick off our 2017 season.”

It'll mark both the home opener and season opener for the Buccaneers, who were forced to cancel their Week 1 game against the Miami Dolphins because of the hurricane. Those two teams will make up their game in Week 11, originally both teams' bye week.

The Bears will travel to Tampa Bay for the third straight season. The Buccaneers thumped Chicago last season, 36-10, in Week 10. The Bears were victorious in 2015, earning a 26-21 victory in Week 16.