BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Mitch Trubisky was picked off on consecutive plays by cornerback Prince Amukamara during Tuesday’s training camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University that looked like a perfect representation of what the Bears are talking about.
As in: Coach Matt Nagy and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone have said they’re okay with Trubisky taking some chances to “test” certain throws, which had led to some deflections and interceptions during camp practices. It's all about the process of seeing how far their quarterback can push the envelope, before working to rein him back in once preparations for Week 1 begin in earnest.
Sometimes, though, those break-ups and picks are due to Trubisky facing a group that notched 36 takeaways en route to being the NFL’s No. 1 defense in 2018.
The first of Trubisky’s back-to-back interceptions was, perhaps, the product of a “test” throw. He looked for Allen Robinson in the back of the end zone, but Robinson was tightly covered by Amukamara. When Robinson slipped, Amukamara made his interception look easy.
On the next play, Trubisky lofted a fade toward tight end Adam Shaheen in the back of the end zone. Trubisky maybe could’ve thrown the ball a little higher to his hulking tight end, but linebacker Roquan Smith was in outstanding coverage and reached his hand up to tip the pass into the waiting hands of Amukamara.
Sometimes, Trubisky makes a throw to test something out that leads to an interception. Sometimes, it’s a bad throw. And sometimes, the NFL’s reigning top defense gets the better of the Bears’ offense.
“You get frustrated because you’re so competitive and you want to win every drill,” Trubisky said. “It’s not realistic to win every drill, but that’s what you strive for, especially going against our defense.”
Khalil Mack, when told Trubisky said that, responded: "I didn't know he said that. It's funny, but at the same time that's what you want. You want the quarterback to be frustrated, that's nice to hear. You know what I mean?
“But ultimately he's doing his thing and he's getting better as well. You can see the growth through him and us, and he's helping us as well."
The Bears’ confidence in Trubisky has grown during training camp. It’s worth noting Nagy was willing to criticize Trubisky for poor decisions or bad throws at times last year; we haven’t heard any of that from the second-year Bears’ coach so far during training camp.
“We have big picture,” Nagy said. “There's going to be some balls in here, there's interceptions. I said it last year. We don't get frustrated over that. We're testing some things out. That's your guys's (the media’s) job to be critical of him and me. We know how to balance that. We know what's real and what's not real.”
Still, Trubisky’s inconsistent training camp to date isn’t all because he’s going against an elite defense. But the Bears, right now, are viewing the results separate from the process — and coaches like what they’ve seen from Trubisky in terms of that process. If Kyle Fuller bats the ball down or Mack blows up the play? That’s fine, as long as Trubisky did the right things before the ball left his hand.
“We accept the fact they’re very good on defense,” Ragone said. “It doesn’t mean you still don’t go out and try to do your job to the best of your ability, take the right footwork, have your eyes in the right spot, have conviction with your decisions. Those are constant things that we’re preaching and those are constant things those guys are trying to do.
“… If those are checked off, you know, it’s an imperfect game. Guys make plays, sometimes they don’t. But that starts with us, though. If our eyes are in the right spot, we’re in the right play, our footwork’s right and something doesn’t work out after that, well that’s part of the deal. But we have to make sure those things are right for us to execute at a decent level.”
Trubisky likely won’t play much during the Bears’ four preseason games; even if he does, the version of the offense he’ll run will be stripped of anything that could give the Packers a hint of what’s coming Week 1. For what it’s worth, Trubisky had a good practice on Tuesday outside of those two interceptions — one of which, again, was largely the product of an outstanding defensive play by an outstanding defensive player.
The real test for Trubisky’s growth will begin Sept. 5 against the Green Bay Packers. This is the central question for the 2019 Bears, bigger than the kicker or the defense or the schedule: How much better will the 2017 No. 2 pick be in his second year in Nagy’s offense?
A handful of training camp practices don’t tell us the answer to that question. Especially when the Bears expect Trubisky to test throws in those practice — and test them against this defense.
“The great thing is he’s being challenged every day by what coach Pagano is bringing out there,” Ragone said. “We embrace that in the quarterback room, and there’s things we can grow from and the whole growth mentality is all in place and so far that’s been good for us to look at those things, have a conversation about them and then try to fix the things we need to get better at the next day.”