Mitch Trubisky disappeared into the backup role astonishingly fast for a player who has been under extreme scrutiny for three and half years in Chicago.
“It reminded me of college a little bit when I was back in that role as a backup. Just like when you’re not in the starter role people aren’t paying attention to you as much. They’re not catering to how they want you to get better or evolve, so there was a little bit where I felt like I was on my own,” Trubisky said Friday.
After winning an intense quarterback competition in August, Trubisky was feeling positive about his start to the 2020 season, which included an improbable fourth quarter comeback in Detroit and two impressive touchdown throws against the Giants (plus another one that was dropped). But the leash was shorter than anyone realized, as a missed deep ball and an early third quarter interception against the Falcons in Week 3 led Bears head coach Matt Nagy to pull his starter in favor of Nick Foles.
“More than anything, I was caught off guard,” Trubisky said. “I think at the beginning of the season I was just starting to build some momentum and then it kinda felt like a blindside, and then I had to embrace a new role.”
Nagy wasn't even the one who broke the news to Trubisky. It was offensive coordinator Bill Lazor who told him the switch was being made. Foles erased a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter and other than an extremely professional Zoom press conference after the game, Trubisky just kind of disappeared.
“The first couple days, it sucked being in that role, but I was trying to just continue to keep perspective and think long term. I want to play in this league a long time, and if I want to do that, there’s things that I just need to continue to get better at,” Trubisky said. “At that point, I just changed my mindset to embrace practice.”
But practice was much different. For the first time since his rookie season in 2017, Trubisky was the backup, which meant scout team reps.
“After the first couple days, I really embraced scout team. I was testing throws that I wouldn’t normally test if I was taking the starter reps,” Trubisky said. “I feel like that was a lot of fun, especially going against our defense, which is obviously very good and talented. It’s tough to complete balls on them, but you go out to practice and you’re completing a lot of balls and making a lot of tough throws. I feel like I was progressing as a player. I was just in the space where I wanted to push myself and continue to get better. I feel like that’s where I have grown over this period of time.”
The Bears are about to find out if Trubisky got better, as he’ll get the starting nod Sunday night at Lambeau Field against the Packers, an opponent he’s 1-4 against. The switch comes courtesy of a hip injury suffered by Foles near the end of the Bears’ last loss, but make no mistake: Trubisky has a chance to keep the starting job if he plays well.
"I think he’s an extremely competitive person that realizes what he’s gone through and where he’s at," Nagy said. "He’s worked hard to get back to this point so that if and when the opportunity does come he doesn’t need to say anything. He’s showing it by his actions and even before this week. So now that he has an opportunity here, I think this kid is just excited to get back out there and I don’t want to make any predictions but I like the way that he’s practiced all week."
From blindsided to ignored to injured and now back to starter, it’s been a remarkable 62 days for Trubisky. As he embraced the scout team as a mechanism to improve on his own, the coaching staff put a package in the offense for him to see occasional playing time, trying to spark a stagnant offense with his mobility. Trubisky played one snap on Nov. 1 against the Saints – a two-yard run to the left – and improbably hurt his throwing shoulder.
“There was, I wouldn’t say anger. I would say more concerned if anything. Because anytime you have an injury and especially for quarterbacks, it being your right shoulder, you start to think longer down the line,” Trubisky said. “Like, I just have to be able to throw to do my job.”
And it’s a job that could take him elsewhere next season, as Trubisky is scheduled to be a free agent in the offseason. That’s why he received a second-opinion to make sure he wasn’t hurting his future by continuing to play and practice this season.
“The opinions I got, they said if I could get it strong enough then you wouldn’t have to worry about anything,” Trubisky said. “So I’m at a point where it’s back to 100 percent. I’m feeling good. I had a great week of practice throwing. No soreness. No pain. And it feels like normal.”
It all sets up a fascinating situation for the former No. 2 overall draft pick who still has a lot to prove. Friday’s session with the media – his first since getting benched in September – was surprisingly candid. There was a certain edge to Trubisky, who might be playing for himself more than ever – and no one can blame him. The quarterback has always played better in hurry-up situations that resemble more of a backyard style of football and it sounds like he took a similar approach to his scout team practices. Can he and new playcaller Bill Lazor capture that attitude Sunday night in Green Bay?
Trubisky’s comments about feeling “like I was on my own” are particularly interesting because he seemed to enjoy it.
“I think I actually thrive in an environment like that because it’s back to where you want to be, where you want to go, what you want to do with your career,” Trubisky said. “I was just finding ways to push myself on my own whether it’s getting up earlier or doing more recovery work, working out more in the weight room or studying more film. Whatever it is, continuing to find ways to get better.”
When Trubisky takes the field Sunday in Green Bay, he’ll still be in the same struggling offense and behind the same suspect offensive line, but he will have a new opportunity to prove his doubters – perhaps even the head coach -- wrong.
“(Being the backup) was tough,” Trubisky said. “It was an adjustment, but I was always hopeful for another opportunity.”
That opportunity has arrived.