The Bears did most of their heavy lifting around Mitch Trubisky a year ago in hiring Matt Nagy, signing Allen Robinson/Taylor Gabriel/Trey Burton and drafting Anthony Miller and James Daniels. Those were the big moves necessary to rapidly build a structure in which Trubisky could be given the best chance of developing.
A year later, the Bears’ moves have been focused on fine-tuning that structure while adding a few new toys for coach and quarterback. The turnover isn’t as significant as it was last year, but it is important:
Gone: Jordan Howard
Acquired: David Montgomery
Gone: Kevin White
Acquired: Cordarrelle Patterson
Gone: Josh Bellamy
Acquired: Riley Ridley
The Bears’ offense got better with each of these three moves, or at least should be better if Montgomery and Ridley hit their draft projections (both were top-60 players on Dane Brugler’s big board for the Athletic). Perhaps a late-round pick or undrafted free agent like running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. or receiver Emanuel Hall flashes enough during OTAs/training camp to work his way onto the Bears' offensive radar.
These moves were designed to make things easier for Trubisky as he enters Year 2 in Nagy’s offense. Montgomery’s skillset should, among other things, help the Bears run play action more effectively after having the second-worst yards per play average in the NFL on play action in 2018 (only the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars were worse). Patterson’s explosiveness could create big-chunk plays from anywhere on the field. Ridley’s polished route-running skills should make him a viable backup in Year 1 with starter upside in the future.
“Any weapons we can surround him with, and I think right now we continue to add weapons, they're all different, a lot of different variety and fortunately we have a coaching staff that can fully utilize those guys,” Pace said. “So already all the coaches are up there right now just talking about different packages they can use so that's exciting.”
The group of playmakers around Trubisky has both top-end talent and good depth. The entire starting offensive line — which was one of the league’s best pass-blocking units last year — is back. There’s a confidence simmering around Halas Hall about what this offense can do in Year 2 with have a full season of experience in it. It feels like all the pieces have fallen into place, leaving fewer questions for 2019.
Except for one: Just how good is Trubisky?
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone inside Halas Hall who doesn’t believe in Trubisky. But he has to produce more in 2019 than he did in 2018 (66.6 completion percentage, 3,223 yards, 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 95.4 passer rating — all of which ranked between 14th and 20th among qualified quarterbacks).
So while having all these weapons in place should help advance the offense, there are individual things Trubisky needs to do better. Nagy provided a detailed example last month at the NFL annual meeting:
“So now that he can take the first wide vision, everyone is lined up right, I get the play call, everything is set, now I can go out and make off balance throws, off-schedule throws — that’s what we call them — that’s where we want to see him take that next leap,” Nagy said. “There were a couple throws last year that he will be the first to tell you he might have thrown it across his body or he threw it into the end zone when we were in the red zone and we got points and it was a little iffy. We gotta eliminate those.
“And there’s others where they might have been somebody that was open that he overthrew. We gotta eliminate those. We wanna hit those. Don’t fool yourself, that is not the only quarterback that is missing those throws. That’s why he has the magnifying glass in our city because it is him, but that goes on throughout the league. To make him a superstar we gotta have him always been hitting those.”
Plenty of you reading this can click through a mental rolodex of those Trubisky overthrows or iffy decisions. He got lucky three times in the first half of the Bears’ playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles with passes that should’ve been picked off. A sailed throw over the head of Trey Burton was intercepted in Buffalo. He tried to do too much after returning from a two-week absence against the Los Angeles Rams and threw three interceptions. This isn't an exhaustive list.
But it’s not like those were the only throws Trubisky made last year. He completed a number of on-time and/or anticipatory passes that didn’t always result in a touchdown or highlight, but were the kind of throws that bolstered the Bears’ internal confidence in Trubisky. Some highlights: Three deep shots to Taylor Gabriel against the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings, as well as some of the throws he made late in the wild card round to Allen Robinson (which, had Cody Parkey done his job, would’ve been viewed in a far more heroic light). A touchdown to Anthony Miller in Week 8, on which now-current Bears slot corner Buster Skrine was in good coverage, was one of Trubisky’s better connections of the season.
The good news, as Nagy sees it, is that those poor throws and bad decisions are fixable issues that should fade as Trubisky’s knowledge of the offense increases.
“I feel strongly about this,” Nagy said. “None of it was a physical thing. It was all just him learning where to go with the ball.”
So as the game slows down for Trubisky with those new weapons in it, the Bears are confident their third-year quarterback will be that final missing piece to take this offense from average to good, maybe even great.
And now, after free agency and the draft are over and the pieces are in place, it’s time for Trubisky to prove it.