The Bears, indeed, are scaling things back for Mitch Trubisky as preseason practices moved to Halas Hall this week. But that’s not a cause to sprint to smash the panic button on the Bears’ third-year quarterback.
“Right now we're going against our defense and they're doing a lot of different stuff, so we're trying to get a lot of plays that we have, just get them reps so we're able to watch them on film, correct them and throw it against the wall and see if it's sticking or not,” Trubisky said after Tuesday’s practice. “But we also have our bread and butters, the ones that I feel really comfortable with, the ones that coach is comfortable with, the ones we can call at any time and just go out there and roll and play fast.”
It’s fair to argue the Bears’ offense didn’t pass the eye test during training camp, so long as the parameters for passing were strings of “wow” moments. But coach Matt Nagy has long maintained he’s not concerned about what those outside the organization think of practice performances — most of what he wanted Trubisky to do in Bourbonnais was test certain throws and plays to see if both quarterback and coach like them.
As Trubisky said, he, Nagy and coaches can go back and look at film of those plays and figure out if the test was successful or can be successful. If it is, or can be -- especially going against a defense overflowing with talent -- then the play can be added to the offense's library, which Trubisky said is "huge."
Still, the Bears paring things down to familiar plays in practice led to some concern from Warren Sharp, one of the smartest football minds out there:
"Chicago exceeded their projected point totals from linemakers in 8 of their first 9 games, but just 2 of their last 7 gms. Let's hope the reports are exaggerated & the Trubisky/Nagy offense is adding elements to reduce the predictability opposing Ds capitalized on late last yr."
Sharp’s analysis is worth reading, even if you disagree with the premise. The Bears’ offense didn’t end 2018 trending up; if anything, the season ended with the offense trending down.
But the Bears’ offseason personnel changes were made, in part, to combat predictability. Specifically: Swapping out running back Jordan Howard and wide receivers Kevin White/Josh Bellamy for David Montgomery/Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson/Riley Ridley. Howard and White were two of the most predictable players the Bears had in 2018.
For instance: The Bears handed off to Howard 40 percent of the time he was on the field last year, and targeted him with a pass on just 4 percent of his snaps. Compare that to Kareem Hunt, who in 2017 took a handoff on 40 percent of his snaps — but was targeted with a pass on 10 percent of them. The expectation should be for Montgomery and Davis to be closer to Hunt’s 10 percent than Howard’s 4 percent, adding a layer of unpredictability to this offense.
And for Patterson, the mere fact the Bears held him out of Thursday’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers is a sign of how unpredictable the Bears believe he can be in this offense. White, meanwhile, played only 170 snaps in 2018 — and the majority of those snaps (92) were running plays.
Don't discount Nagy learning and evolving from a year's worth of playcalling with Trubisky and this offense, too.
“I think that's probably our biggest strength, is unpredictability,” Nagy said.
The larger point regarding Trubisky, though, is this: We won’t know how good he is until well into the 2019 season. Narratives will be formed, sure — they already are — but if Trubisky starts the season setting the NFL on fire, we’ll need to see if he can keep it up in November, December and then January. If he starts slow — like he did last year — perhaps we can look back on July and August and say some of the bad things Trubisky did in practice were harbingers of doom. It’s far too early to come to a conclusion, though.
The Bears, though, have a strong, unwavering belief in their quarterback. That certainly has not changed as a team with Super Bowl aspirations readies itself for its 100th season.
“Right now we're both really happy, we're excited and I think I'm cautiously optimistic about our offense in general and just our team,” Nagy said. “… Let me tell you something: we're in a phenomonal spot right now. I love where we're at.”