In a normal year, the nascent stages Bears’ quarterback competition between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles would be underway. This is, of course, not a normal year.
And the Bears aren’t beginning to decide who their starting quarterback will be based off of some virtual meetings.
“There’s no competition going on right now over Zoom,” coach Matt Nagy said.
In reality, that the Bears aren’t able to convene at Halas Hall for meetings right now, and OTA practices later, doesn’t change a ton in regard to Trubisky and Foles. It’d be nice for both to get face time with their new coaches — Foles knows QB coach John DiFilippo, but Trubisky doesn’t; Trubisky knows Dave Ragone, but Foles doesn’t — but there wouldn’t be much either quarterback could do to pull ahead of the other during OTAs.
Nagy, remember, made it clear back in April Trubisky would take the first snap of training camp.
But that doesn’t mean the Bears’ quarterback competition is not being affected, and will not be affected, by the uncertainty surrounding the league calendar amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two critical ways the most important positional battle in recent Bears’ history is being impacted by the much, much more serious issues facing humanity:
Finding the half-full glass
The ever-positive Nagy is big on silver linings. During last year’s debilitating four-game losing streak, he found one in how his locker room stuck together. Now, he’s found one in how he, his coaches and players have adapted to the unprecedented, virtual nature of 2020’s offseason program.
“The beauty of what is going on right now is there is so much feedback back and forth,” Nagy said. “And discussions are interactive in what coaches like and what the players like, what the coaches like, what the quarterbacks like, different ideas and so to say.”
Nagy mentioned the Bears have less of a focus on nitty-gritty installation and more on individual unit meetings without the ability to meet in person. It’s allowed him to float more around as the head coach — checking in on meetings with, say, the wide receivers and defensive backs involves clicking a link, not physically walking from room to room.
He also feels the ability to dial up guest speakers — like Hall of Famers he declined to name — and an emphasis on “coffee shop” talks between players has broken up the monotony of hearing from nothing but coaches during the usual spring workouts.
Those silver linings are important, because a lot of what the Bears are doing isn’t all too different than if they were all together in Lake Forest. There’s just no time to break to go to the field, or to have a face-to-face conversation.
So how does this apply to the quarterback competition? For starters, Nagy said Trubisky has shown him he’s heeded the challenge from his coach back in the winter: Know the playbook better than I do.
“Mitch, in the previous two years he's learning how to play the quarterback position,” Nagy said. “That doesn't always mean on the field, that means off the field — watching tape, what notes do you take, what's your schedule going to be? Right? How do you accept coaching? How do you give feedback? And all of that stuff has been going on right now has been going on in different ways.
“So what we'll do, when we're allowed, we get together and we'll talk through some of the summary of we just talked about — with the details of plays, with his scheduling, etc. — and I can see he's starting to create his own way, his own habits.”
That’s something not affected by social distancing requirements or Zoom calls. But, then, as Nagy importantly added:
“Obviously the biggest thing is none of it matters unless we all go out there and do it on the field, and now that's going to be the next challenge, taking it onto the field and doing it through a competition.”
The biggest question I have about the Bears’ quarterback competition at the moment, then, is: When is it actually going to start?
Nagy said the Bears are operating, for now, like they’ll have a normal preseason. So four games, a few joint practices with the Denver Broncos, and boom, the regular season starts.
But seeing as every major team sports league around the world is still on pause — except for the Korean Baseball Organization (let’s go Samsung Lions!) and German Bundesliga (come on Shalke!) — it’s hard to imagine, right now, the NFL having a business-as-usual preseason.
And that’s where the real evaluation of Trubisky and Foles will take place.
What if it’s shortened? What if, instead of four games, there are only two?
“(Games are) the best time for us to be able to get the evaluation process going and so we need to get as many reps as we can to be able to see what they're doing when we do it,” Nagy said. “Does that mean more (preseason) reps, yeah probably in that situation.
“So we're going to do everything we can and if we need to have more competition type levels, you know 11 on 11 type deals in practice we'll do that to.”
My hunch is a shorter preseason would work in Foles’ favor. He doesn’t have two years of inconsistent tape running the Bears’ offense to overcome; Trubisky probably needs all the impressive practices and games he can get to hang on to his job.
But it’s also hard to get a read on the quarterback competition until it actually starts. Whenever that’ll be.
“When we do get out on the field, depending on when that is, that’s where we are going to have to be really good as coaches in making sure that we provide the best way possible to make it as fair as possible to where we can evaluate,” Nagy said. “And they can go out and get the exact same reps in the exact same environment so that we can hopefully make a decision off of that.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.