NFL Draft

The Bears need to establish a template for Mitch Trubisky

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AP

The Bears need to establish a template for Mitch Trubisky

The bye week of every NFL season is a time of intense self-scouting, more in depth than the weekly self-critiquing that is a constant in the NFL. Four games into the NFL career of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the Bears have something of a philosophical decision to make with their rookie quarterback.

One quarterback ideal in the current NFL is the one who can operate at max production from the pocket, with the ability to turn a broken play into a broken defense when he gets outside the pocket, whether by design, or induced by pressure. Brett Favre, Joe Montana, John Elway, Aaron Rodgers, a few that come to mind.

Trubisky already has established himself as able to move, able to throw on the move, and able to operate in an offense designed around more of his skill set than simply his right arm. Critics of the Bears’ game-planning and play-calling derided the Bears for not doing more with Trubisky’s mobile talents even as the Bears were winning two of his first three starts.

But much of life is about balance (thank you, Mr. Miyagi), and ultimately that is the foundation of a successful offense. Within that context, the Bears need to establish, and likely already have, a template for the kind of quarterback they want Trubisky to become.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning always thrived in the pocket. Favre, Rodgers and Montana by their own assessments have flourished in chaos. All will wind up in the Hall of Fame. All have had significant injuries, whether pocket-dweller or man-on-the-move.

Mobile Trubisky, but be careful

Will defenses seek to flush Trubisky out of the pocket and keep him in it? And where will the Bears most often want him to be? How mobile do the Bears really want Trubisky to be “on purpose?”

A couple of thoughts, though:

Trubisky can move. No negative there. But his mobility hasn’t been offense-altering and coaches may have good reason for not designing a lot around that mobility, because the NFL may be onto him.

Trubisky averaged 9.6 yards per carry in preseason; his average is down at 7.3 yards per carry in his regular-season starts, and that includes a 46-yard scamper against the New Orleans Saints. Without that, Trubisky is picking up 4.6 yards per run.

Consistent with that, Trubisky was sacked once every 19 drop-backs in preseason, obviously going against lesser defensive talent. He now is being dropped once every 8.5 times he sets up to pass.

Trubisky, at this early point in his NFL career, has been critiqued as being more accurate on the move and/or outside the pocket. This is not necessarily a good thing whatsoever; the last Bears quarterback with that sort of seeming contradiction was Rick Mirer, who was demonstrably better on the fly (insert caustic comment here).

Nor is it necessarily true, at least in Trubisky’s mind.

“We had a higher [completion] percentage in play-action passes and [quarterback] keepers,” Trubisky said. “A lot of the incompletions were throwaways but we can just be higher percentage in those areas and continue to be better on third down. But we’ve been pretty good on drop backs and we just need to keep getting better in the red area to finish with points.”

He is a rookie with all of 13 college starts, about one-third the number that Deshaun Watson had at Clemson, and 572 total college passes, fewer than half the number thrown by Pat Mahomes at Texas Tech — the two quarterbacks his own selection preceded theirs in the 2017 NFL Draft. So the understanding was that Trubisky’s learning curve could well be a little longer or steeper than the typical rookie.

But he is clearly learning, what works and what doesn’t.

Ball-security concept sinking in

Coaches have drilled into Trubisky the importance of keeping the football in Bears hands and no one else’s. He has appeared to get it since before he replaced Mike Glennon, back in preseason when he nearly unseated Glennon outright as the Week 1 starter.

“Just look from game to game that he’s started,” head coach John Fox said. “We’re 2-2 in the quarter [of the ’17 season] that he’s been our starting quarterback, and I think we’ve done a better job of ball security and…we’ll just see where that takes us."

Trubisky threw zero interceptions in 53 preseason attempts even while seeing some pressure (sacked three times). He has thrown two picks in 80 regular season attempts while taking 11 sacks and throwing more than a half-dozen far out of harm’s way. Colleague JJ Stankevitz puts Trubisky in context with other rookie passers, citing QB coach Dave Ragone’s observation that some of ball-security behavior is innate and some is learning progressions and decision-making.

Jay Cutler never appeared to make ball security the priority it needed to be; his interception rates too often were north of 3, normally a tipping point for quarterback play. Favre can disprove some of the rule, but complementary football begins with an offense not putting its defense in difficult situations with turnovers. Only two teams reached the 2016 postseason with quarterbacks throwing INT’s at a rate higher than 2.7 percent.

Priority: Accuracy

Accuracy is prized nearly as much as ball security (they are not unconnected, obviously), and this so far is a work in progress.

Trubisky has completed a very, very modest 47.5 percent of his passes through his four starts. In fairness, however, he threw six passes away in the win over the Baltimore Ravens, a clear indication of movement along the learning curve from the previous week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings when a forced throw in the closing minutes resulted in an interception that turned a potential winning Bears drive into a Vikings victory.

Just for sake of a meaningless what-if, had Trubisky completed four of those six intentional throwaways, his theoretical completion percentage improves to 52.5 — not the august 67.9 percent he completed in preseason or his 67.5 percent at North Carolina. Neither mean anything at the NFL level, except that his accuracy was a major reason for his evaluation as the top quarterback in the 2017 draft by more than only the Bears. His coaches may have installed a level-one priority for ball security but that does not compromise a natural passing accuracy that Trubisky has demonstrated his entire football life.

“We watched all the passes [last] week – all the red zone and two-minute and play action, every single pass we’ve had this year to see how we can get better and how we can get a higher completion percentage and too see how we can be more efficient all the way around,” Trubisky said. “We’ve been analyzing and self-scouting our own offense to see where we need to get better and at and what we need to improve.”

Bourbonnais bummer: Why Mitch Trubisky could be sidelined at start of training camp

Bourbonnais bummer: Why Mitch Trubisky could be sidelined at start of training camp

As much as Bears top draft pick Mitch Trubisky says he'll be on the field as part of the first training camp practice three weeks from Thursday, he and his agents know this is a business.

Bruce and Ryan Tollner will not let their client take the field in Bourbonnais without a deal in place, even if they let it slide during organized team activities and minicamp last month. It's great the kid says he'll be there, deal or not, but they won't let it happen without being signed, sealed and delivered.

It's important to note that the Tollners have represented the last two No. 2 overall picks, who've also happened to be quarterbacks. Back in 2015, Marcus Mariota was their man and things got a little dicey before he eventually signed a four-year, $24 million contract that included nearly $16 million guaranteed. The Titans historically didn't include offset language in their deals for first-rounders, but agreed to a partial offset in this case as the day of reckoning neared. Offset language allows teams to only pay the portion of the original contract if, in the worst-case scenario, the player is such a bust that they cut him but is signed elsewhere. Any new deal would offset or negate the fourth-year salary of his original rookie contract from what he's paid by his new team. He'd be basically earning what the new team pays, not the money from his original contract plus the salary from his new team.

Last year, the Tollners and Carson Wentz accepted offset language, as did Jared Goff with the Rams. In the end, Wentz signed a four-year deal worth approximately $27 million, about $17-1/2 million guaranteed.

Based on that math, the Bears are probably looking at a four-year investment worth $28-30 million, and upwards of $18 million or more guaranteed. The offset language, the i's dotted and the t's crossed, factor into whether the kid's promises to be on the field July 27 become a reality.

White Sox draft Jim Harbaugh's nephew, son of former Indiana head coach

White Sox draft Jim Harbaugh's nephew, son of former Indiana head coach


The White Sox have taken the first step to paving a way for Jim Harbaugh to leave Michigan for a coaching job with the Bears.

Well, sort of.

As the White Sox were wrapping up Day 3 on the 2017 MLB Draft on Wednesday afternoon, they selected a player with a family connection to the Wolverines head coach.

Riley Crean, the nephew of Harbaugh and the son of former Indiana basketball head coach Tom Crean, was drafted by the White Sox in the 35th round (No. 1,047).

The South Siders connection with Riley Crean comes from White Sox Scouting Director Nick Hostetler being close friends with Tom Crean, according to the Chicago Tribune. Also, Riley Crean played for the White Sox Are Code Team.

Topping out at 87 MPH on the mound for Bloomington North High School as a senior in 2017, Riley Crean is currently committed to play baseball for the Hoosiers. However, the Herald-Times reports that Riley Crean will not attend Indiana and is headed to Florida to play for IMG Academy in 2018. Attending IMG will allow Riley Crean to be eligible for next year's draft, rather than having to wait until after his junior year to be selected again due to NCAA rules.

While Riley Crean won't be putting on a White Sox uniform anytime soon, it does give him a chance to eventually follow in his uncle's footsteps and play for the team that drafted him in Chicago.

Harbaugh played for the Bears from 1987-1993 after he was selected by the organization in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft.

Maybe by the time Riley Crean is ready for the big leagues, Harbaugh will be pacing up and down the sidelines in his khakis at Soldier Field.