Bears

The big picture vs. narrow mindset for developing Mitchell Trubisky

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USA Today

The big picture vs. narrow mindset for developing Mitchell Trubisky

On Wednesday, Dowell Loggains said having Mitchell Trubisky throw 46 times in last weekend’s loss to the Detroit Lions was an “awesome opportunity.” Coach John Fox didn’t necessarily see it that way, given Trubisky had to throw so much because the Bears were losing by multiple possessions for the majority of the game. 

“It’s kind of Catch-22 when you get in that situation,” Fox said. “There’s no doubt you expose the quarterback more when you do that. So it’s a fine line. From an experience standpoint, I can see what Dowell’s basically relating that to. But again, you want a guy to have success. I think Mitch has kind of made that steady success. As I mentioned even after the game, people just see the box score and the interceptions. But there were really some tremendous reads, tremendous throws that knowing Mitch to this point he’ll learn and grow from.”

Fox has argued that Trubisky has played his best game in each of the last three weeks, following games against San Francisco, Cincinnati and Detroit. There wasn’t much arguing against the Bengals game (25/32, 271 yards, 1 TD, 112.4 passer rating), of course. While Trubisky played well against San Francisco (12/15, 102 yards, 1 TD, 117.2 passer rating), he did so within the confines of a conservative gameplan that only resulted in one scoring drive. And against Detroit, Trubisky did make some good throws and do some operational things better, he still threw three interceptions, one of which came on third down from the Lions’ five-yard line. 

Ideally, for Fox, the Bears wouldn’t have had Trubisky throw 46 times, because that meant the score of the game dictated what they’d do offensively. And that’s fine — Fox’s job is to win games, though he hasn’t done that in three years with the Bears (13-33). But it does miss the bigger picture for the franchise, which seems likely to move on without Fox in 2018: The development of Trubisky is paramount, and the best way to develop him is to have him throw as much as possible. 

Trubisky hasn't been afforded that chance on a consistent basis, though. Perhaps a 4-10 team will keep those opportunities coming in the last two weeks of the season, even if the coaching staff isn't put in a position where they have to throw the ball. 

“Just as many reps as you can accumulate, that’s how he’s going to grow,” Loggains said. “That’s how he’s going to better is being able to sit back and do those things, having poise in the pocket, in every game that you get to play in you start to become more comfortable in the pocket, sitting in there and understanding the timing of each play, reading coverage. There’s nothing you can do, as much work as he spins and virtual reality and watching tape, there’s nothing like getting the real thing.”

James Daniels dubbed Bears' 2020 breakout candidate

James Daniels dubbed Bears' 2020 breakout candidate

The Chicago Bears offensive line wasn't good in 2019. It was downright brutal at times. And it's because of the unit's sub-par play that both guard and tackle have been mentioned among the top offseason needs heading into free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.

But it wasn't long ago that James Daniels was a highly decorated second-round pick out of Iowa. In fact, it was just two years ago. The second-year starter had his ups and downs in 2019, but he may have the most upside of any of the starting offensive linemen slated to return next fall.

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Daniels posted the Bears' third-highest season grade on offense from Pro Football Focus (70.3) and was the team's highest-graded starting offensive lineman. At just 22 years old, the arrow is pointing up for him.

In fact, he was dubbed the league's breakout candidate at guard in 2020:

The Bears moved Daniels to center to start 2019, switching his spot on the line with Cody Whitehair, after he had played left guard the entirety of his first season. Daniels earned a 63.2 overall grade at center, which would have been good for 22nd out of 37 qualifiers at the position. Meanwhile, his 73.9 grade at left guard would have ranked fifth among 39 qualifiers. It remains to be seen how the Bears use Daniels in 2020, but it’s clear that he performed better at guard. As talented as he is at just 22 years old, another season with position continuity could have Daniels poised to break out.

It's often difficult to recognize one offensive lineman's positive play when the group, as a whole, struggles. But Daniels was a bright spot in an otherwise dark year for the Bears' big uglies, and he remains a key cog in an offense looking to take massive strides in 2020.

Bears Season in Review: Roquan Smith

Bears Season in Review: Roquan Smith

Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith was supposed to ascend into superstar status in 2019, and while he certainly had some flashes of elite play, his year will best be remembered for a strange deactivation in Week 4 and a torn pec muscle that ended his season in Week 14.

We still don't know the exact reason why Smith didn't play against the Vikings. The team called it a personal issue and refused to expand on why one of their most important defensive pieces didn't suit up. We've been left to speculate, which is never a good thing. We may never know what exactly went wrong that week, which naturally creates worry and concern about how much the team can actually rely on Smith on a week-to-week basis. 

Smith's season ended after 12 starts, 100 tackles, two starts, and one interception. He was inconsistent on the field; when he played well, he was lights out. But he had more than his fair share of missed tackles and head-scratching moments that looked nothing like the player the Bears drafted eighth overall in 2018.

Smith ended the year as one of the lowest-graded Bears on defense (24th). His 52.4 ranked 124th among qualifying linebackers on Pro Football Focus. Not good.

But analytics don't always tell the full story. Smith's sideline-to-sideline speed and missile-like penetrating skill set is and will remain an asset for the Bears defense. On pure talent alone, Smith has few peers in the NFL. He just needs to become a more consistent football player, both on and off the field.

We'll chalk up 2019 as an odd blip on Smith's career trajectory. Assuming he makes a full offseason recovery from is pec injury, he'll begin 2020 as one of the cornerstone pieces of a defense that remains one of the NFL's best.